Much of the art on show this week is curious and odd. Joanna Pegler, at the Anna Miles Gallery, creates detailed, rather dry landscapes but always includes some element that gives a strange atmosphere to the work.

The largest piece in her show has some folding hills lined with sheep tracks sloping up to a ridge. The hills are solidly painted and the sky is impressive, as her skies always are. The painting is called Madonna, referring to a mother and child on one of the slopes - an isolated sheep with a lamb. They are an integral part of the landscape yet their isolation is curious, giving tension to the painting.

This quality extends to a line of wind-blown macrocarpa trees just below the ridge. They are all bent by the winds and appear to be advancing up the slope, leaving dead trees in their wake. Over the ridge, there is a small group like an enemy brigade.

In another work, Hydrangea, dead branches, black against the sky, have an equally anthropomorphic quality. The branches are like arms fending off the wind, reaching out and praying.

These are works where hints are more effective than more explicit detail such as where eyes and a gap in the clouds make an obvious staring face in Tableaux. In other paintings, there is a subtle transformation so naturalistically painted logs on a stretch of rocks near a lagoon become signals and graphically suggest bones. This surreal quality gives Pegler's work, carefully studied and based on observation though it is, a depth that makes it more than a simple record.

Up on Karangahape Rd things get even more curious. At Starkwhite Gallery, a work by Dane Mitchell called The Dragon, The Purple Forbidden Enclosure consists of a pattern of chromium-plated rails on the floor. These rails are stanchions, like those which keep the public from getting too close to paintings at exhibitions. The rails confine a space that has an enclosed area at the top. Within the whole area are three objects: a sealed glass flask which is said to contain breath. It is closely reminiscent of Duchamp's famous glass Flask of Paris Air. Then there is a rock, connected by string to the railing, and boxes of bottled water regimented in rows.

Air, rock and water, these things could have spiritual significance and we are told that when the piece was first shown in Singapore a shaman chanted over them to add another layer of effect. The rock is small, the string sags and the water is commercial. One part of the railing is supposed to represent the head of a symbolic dragon but unless you are told you would never know. The concept "air, rock and water" associated with the power of a dragon might work if the piece itself was tighter and had more energy.

Upstairs is an exhibition by the prominent photographer Ann Shelton. They are large clear prints of oak trees grown from the seedlings given to gold-medal winners at the 1936 Olympics. They are known as "Hitler's Oaks". One is a tree in Timaru grown from a seedling given to Jack Lovelock when he won a gold medal at the Berlin Olympics. Others are in Hungary, Germany, Holland and France. These photographs come in pairs and are divided between two rooms. Each image is seen upright and upside down like a painting by Baselitz, the German artist who made a feature of inverting everything. His was an upside down world after the war. Perhaps the same sort of symbolism is intended here.

Ivan Anthony also hosts two shows. One is by John Ward Knox who came on the art scene with soft, almost imperceptible paintings. Here he uses objects: a page from a book with a little square hole in it, a necklace with a pearl, a sculpture with a wedding ring and a loop of twine. One senses these objects have personal meaning for the artist but they simply look commonplace.

Only one piece has a real flourish of wit. It is a bentwood chair leaning backward, supported by a walking stick. This cleverly improvised support system, curious as it is, really stays in the memory.

Delicate watercolours by Georgie Hill have a mystery in their making. The paint is used to stain the paper with soft waves of pattern. The same softness applies to a female figure at the centre of each painting. The woman is invariably faceless, the soft patterns extend to blankets and wrappings but her dress is where the softness ends. The dresses on these figures are made up of patches divided by fine lines. Just occasionally there is a piece of delicate drawing, notably of hands, but everywhere else patterns rule so each work has a charm of its own but it is essentially a decorative charm.

At Artspace, we have the work of three artists, from Australia, New Zealand and California. Australian Charlie Sofo was invited to contribute to the show. He came, he talked to artists, he wrote about his talks on two pieces of A4 paper that sit on a desk in the main gallery. In the same text, he confesses that no material work has emerged from his experience. On two pieces of timber on the floor he shows a few photographs and some little pieces of rock because he talked to an artist about the rocks in Auckland.

He did paint a wall. A friend lent him a ladder and the ladder hangs on the wall. The only other result of his experience of Auckland is a DVD which records security lights over doorways and is shown on a little screen.

A video work by Ed Atkins from Britain shows unconnected images, some foliage, some just pure colour like a collection of curiosities. Another video by Los Angeles-based Sean Grattan, shows actors talking directly out of the screen but not making eye contact. It turns what presenters usually do on its head, breaking all the conventions of TV discussion.

All of this work in galleries along K'Rd feels intended to show that a completely new idea of art is evolving. It remains as yet unresolved.

At the galleries
What: City of Rivers/River of Trees by Joanna Pegler

Where and when: Anna Miles Gallery, 4J/47 High St, to November 19

TJ says: Detailed observation and precise painting of landscape is allied to atmosphere and strangely surreal details.

What: The Dragon, The Purple Forbidden Enclosure by Dane Mitchell; In a forest by Ann Shelton

Where and when: Starkwhite, 510 Karangahape Rd, to November 29

TJ says: Bare bones of a sculpture that suggest heavy ritual by Mitchell, and some excellent photographs of "Hitler's Oaks", some inexplicably turned upside down, by Shelton

What: Moving on looking by John Ward Knox; True Time Lurk by Georgie Hill

Where and when: Ivan Anthony Gallery, 300 Karangahape Rd, to November 19

TJ says: Knox makes his art from things as transient as shadows but one work has real wit while Georgie Hill has a unique set of subtle techniques in watercolour.

What: Sudden gestures or noises by Ed Atkins, Sean Grattan and Charlie Sofo

Where and when: Artspace, Level 1, 300 Karangahape Rd, to November 26

TJ says: Artspace doing what it should with uncommercial art by people from New Zealand, Australia, and California but the work is self-absorbed and puzzling.

Check it out
For gallery listings, see nzherald.co.nz/gallerylistings