Spotlight: Can art objects express the essence of immateriality? A new exhibition in Vancouver explores the possibilities

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About the exhibition: Vancouver’s Elan Fine Art recently opened Synthesis: Immaterial Tendencies in Art, a group show exploring some of the ways contemporary artists are exploring ideas of immateriality and spirituality through the art object, be it material or conceptual. Among the featured artists are Charlotte Wall, Tony Robins, David Spriggs and Robert Kelly, along with two artists new to the gallery – Pritzker Prize-winning architect Thom Mayne and Vancouver-based artist, architect and former gallery owner Michael Bjornson.

Why we like it: The wide-ranging exhibition opens up the expression of the “immaterial” in art from different perspectives. Wall’s hauntingly filigree installation is particularly moving Shelter (for Mark) (2022), which consists of shells hanging from the ceiling by threads. The fragility of the work suggests the fragility of life – the shells were shed by sea creatures that no longer need a protective layer, but at the same time without them they face new dangers. Wall created the work in response to the war in Ukraine and the sudden large-scale displacement of people from their homes. Spriggs’ light and space works, on the other hand, are inherently limitless. Robin’s triptych threshold (2022) consists of three black mirrors in which the temporal presence of the viewer’s own reflection negates any possibility of permanence in the work.

Installation view, Synthesis: Immaterial Tendencies in Art, 2022. Courtesy of Elan Fine Art.

What the gallery says: “The exhibition title ‘Synthesis’ only came about after we had completed the installation. We sat with one of our artists, David Spriggs, and joked about the idea of ​​several things coming together. The second half of the title “Immaterial Tendencies in Art” addresses the relevance of immateriality in this exhibition. From a denotative point of view, an “immaterial” thing is something that is unimportant. But in philosophy it is the idea that there are no material things, that everything that exists is immaterial and that every tangible object carries a spiritual meaning and essence.

The durability of art materials is often not closely examined or questioned. For example, we look at land art and we don’t think about how it’s going to fade with the weather, or a bronze sculpture that’s left outside and can tarnish. Or we look at a contemporary painting and don’t consider that without conservation it will fade or start to deteriorate,” said Diamond Zhou, a staff member at the gallery. “Shells weather and crumble; threads too. The transience of materials for art – paper, wood, fabric, paint – is strongly considered in these works.”

Browse the works in the exhibition below.

threshold (2022)
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Tony Robins, Threshold (2022).  Courtesy of Elan Fine Art.

Tony Robins, threshold (2022). Courtesy of Elan Fine Art.


Untitled (2022)
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Michael Bjornson, Untitled (2022).  Courtesy of Elan Fine Art.

Michael Bjornson, Untitled (2022). Courtesy of Elan Fine Art.

Gravity – Red (2019)
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David Spriggs, Gravity – Red (2019).  Courtesy of Elan Fine Art.

david spriggs, Gravity – Red (2019). Courtesy of Elan Fine Art.

YONKXI:2 (2011)
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Thom Mayne, YONKXI: 2 (2011).  Courtesy of Elan Fine Art.

Thomas Mayne, YONKXI:2 (2011). Courtesy of Elan Fine Art.

cabbage (1978)
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Gathie Falk, Kohl (1978).  Courtesy of Elan Fine Art.

Gati Falk, cabbage (1978). Courtesy of Elan Fine Art.

Synthesis: Immaterial Tendencies in Art is on view at Elan Fine Art, Vancouver, through August 27, 2022.

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