Sonora is a group of small sculptures made in response to Kelly Lycan's solo exhibition More Than Nothing at Burrard Arts Foundation. Lycan asked five Vancouver artists, Deborah Edmeades, Justin Patterson, Natalie Purschwitz, Marina Roy, and me, to respond to her shelf sculptures with artworks that were light in color and weight. The base material for my response was a collection of pull tabs gathered by a detectorist from the Sonoran dessert.

From Burrard Arts Foundation:

In More Than Nothing, a new installation work specifically conceived for the BAF after a ten-week residency, Kelly Lycan delves into the aesthetics of museum interiors, architecture, and display models, both past and present. In her research, Lycan photographs and collects images of display systems from museums worldwide. Her findings inventory the many plinths, shelves, and cases built specifically to showcase artworks and artifacts, but that often fade unnoticed into the background. The resulting exhibition stems from this study of museological display practices—subject matter which Lycan has engaged with in exhibitions at, Or Gallery, Presentation House Gallery, and Kamloops Art Gallery.

Referencing her archive of museum spaces and display cases, Lycan loosely recreates shelves and walls using drywall, and house paint in various shades of white—cheap commodities easily available at any hardware store, and common to both building sites and gallery spaces alike. Her use of these ordinary materials—indeed the same materials that make up the interior of BAF itself—refocuses the viewer’s gaze on what is typically overlooked as extraneous information. Lycan appends and reconfigures the BAF’s architectural and spatial layout with roughly cut and painted drywall placed in direct relationship with the gallery’s existing walls. With its anti-monumental aesthetic, More Than Nothing muddles and blurs the boundaries of art and the white cube space of the gallery, seamlessly melding the two.

More Than Nothing encourages the viewer to look at ordinary objects instead of through them. Arguing for a shift towards a new materialism in his essay, “Thing Theory,” scholar Bill Brown writes that we can better understand the potency of things by asking what are “the ideological and ideational effects of the material world and of transformations of it,” as well as reflecting on “what work [things] perform.” In this vein, we can consider how do display structures affect how we view artworks and how have these structures shaped exhibition practices? In her drywall fabrications of shelves and gallery walls, Lycan foregrounds their significant function within a history of art, exhibitions, and museum methodologies.

By highlighting the discrete display systems typically used to frame and present objects as art, Lycan bestows these humble structures with their own subtly powerful aura as artworks. In More Than Nothing, display shelves are reborn as minimalist sculpture and abstract painting, compositions and still lifes in themselves. Viewers are asked to imagine these objects’ trajectory between various mediums and contexts: from exhibiting artworks in museums, to being photographed, to becoming the key components of a site-specific installation at BAF. How does their associated value shift and evolve as they move from one context to another, from the flatness of a photograph to the three dimensionality of an installation, from figurative to abstracted content? Finally, Lycan pushes this trajectory full circle by asking local artists Lucien Durey, Deborah Edmeades, Justin Patterson, Natalie Purschwitz, and Marina Roy to respond to her shelf sculptures, where her artworks may well become display systems once again.

Documentation by Dennis Ha and Kelly Lycan:
Lucien Durey, Sonora(2016), Pull tabs, twist ties, zip ties, Velcro, paper, tape.
Kelly Lycan, Museo de la Casa de Cultura, Todo Santos, Baja, Mexico (2016).

More images via BAF website.