Spotlight: Can Art Objects Express the Essence of Immateriality? A New Vancouver Exhibition Explores the Possibilities

The exhibition at Elan Fine Art features works by Charlotte Wall, Tony Robins, David Spriggs, and Robert Kelly, among others.

Charlotte Wall, Shelter (For Mark) (2022). Courtesy of Elan Fine Art.

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About the Exhibition: Vancouver’s Elan Fine Art recently opened the exhibition “Synthesis: Immaterial Tendencies in Art,” a group show that looks at some of the ways contemporary artists are addressing ideas of intangibility and spirituality through the art object, be it materially or conceptually. 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 gallerist Michael Bjornson.

Why We Like It: The wide-ranging exhibition taps into expressions of the “immaterial” in art from a number of different angles. Particularly moving is Wall’s hauntingly delicate installation Shelter (For Mark) (2022), which consists of seashells suspended from the ceiling by threads. The fragility of the work hints at the tenuousness of life—the shells have been shed by sea creatures no longer in need of a protective layer, but they are simultaneously exposed to new dangers without them. Wall created the work in response to the war in Ukraine and the sudden large-scale displacement of people from their homes. Meanwhile, Spriggs’s light and space works are boundary-less in their very essence. Robins’s triptych Threshold (2022) consists of three black mirrors, in which the temporal presence of the viewer’s own reflection negates any possibilities of permanence in the work. 

Installation view "Synthesis" 2022. Courtesy of Elan Fine Art.

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

What the Gallery Says: “The exhibition title of ‘Synthesis’ did not come about until after we finished installing. We sat with one of our artists, David Spriggs, and bantered around the idea of multiple things coming together. The second half of the title, ‘Immaterial Tendencies in Art,’ speaks to the relevance of immateriality in this exhibition. From a denotative perspective, 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 significance and essence. 

The permanence of art materials is often not closely examined or questioned. We look at, say, Land art and don’t think about how it will fade away with weather, or at a bronze sculpture sitting outside that may tarnish. Or we look at a contemporary painting and fail to consider that it will fade or start to deteriorate without conservation,” said Diamond Zhou, an associate with the gallery. “Shells weather and degrade; so do threads. The impermanent quality of materials for art—paper, wood, fabric, paint—is strongly considered in these works.”

Browse works from 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). Courtessy 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.

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


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

Gathie 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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