Fuxin, China, 1980
Lives and works in Beijing, China
Recent and past histories, intransigent conflicts and tensions, sequential flashes of hand-created images – these are the irrevocable features of Sun Xun’s artistic practice that fuses the line between art and animation. A graduate from the Printmaking Department of the China Academy of Arts, Sun Xun was a professor at the prestigious Academy before founding in 2006 his own Animation Studio, entitled π. His work primarily involves making images using various materials such as colour powder, woodcuts and traditional ink, and collating these to produce a film, which is often presented in an immersive setting. Sun Xun’s art thus acts as a theatre of memory, replete with shuttering sequences and jarring juxtapositions of surrealistic and recognisable images, which collectively serve to scrape the uncontested surface of politicised truth.
Sun Xun was born in 1980 and raised in Fuxin, located in the North East of China. While most of the country was in the throes of reinventing itself along the tenets of Deng Xiaoping’s economic reform, the area Sun Xun grew up in remained largely the old mining county he was born into: propaganda blared from loudspeakers, uniform workers shuffled past, flags fluttered hailing a “New China” in its premature infancy. Such national historicity, flawed and disparate, sowed the seeds for the vital narrative that pervades Sun Xun’s visual artistry. It also laid the foundation for his work’s most imperative question: which history does China wish to remember and which does it seek to be a part of?
From Sun Xun’s early oeuvres, through to his most recent pieces, one comes to identify various protagonists that repeatedly appear in his probing chronicles. The mosquito, for example, which sucks on the blood of mammals and primarily of men to survive, was the subject of “Insect Archeological” (2005) and reappears periodically in works such as “Requiem” (2007). The incontestable central figure of his narratives, however, is the magician, which Sun Xun has remarked is “the only legal liar”. From “Lie” (2006) to “Magician Party” (2008) and “Beyond-Ism” (2010), the magician appears, over and over, as a well-suited dark figure, representative of humanity’s willing submission to falsehood.
Crucially, the two above-mentioned characters come together in “The New China”, a video and immersive exhibition that was staged at the Hammer Museum in 2008. As the title suggests, the work directly refers to the missionary book Sun Xun was gifted several years prior but also refers to the nation’s own projected efforts at reinvention. At the centre of the exhibit, above the screened film, is a geographical outline of China, across which the word ‘History’ is painted in black. On either side runs a banner, inscribed with the words ‘Lie’ and ‘Farce’. The declaration of deceit is summated by the profile of the magician that stands above, flanked on either side by two gigantic mosquitoes that have pierced into the outline of China and are identifiably feasting.
Sun Xun thus builds an allegory for the covert and corruptive practices that occur under the surface in his native country. He expresses how as a people his compatriots have accepted the deception despite its illegality and permitted the authorities to feast on their efforts. He also poses the question of how his nation is perceived abroad. At the end of the day, which history, both internally and externally, will be canonised and accepted? This position is revisited throughout his works and by other characters too: tenebrous crows in “21KE” (2010), harrowing owls in “Undefined Revolution” (2012), a lonesome intellectual on the brink of animalism in “Some Actions Which Haven’t Been Defined Yet in the Revolution” (2011). Throughout, Sun Xun probes; crucially, however, he does not provide answers. The main leap has been taken and that has been to question, to adopt a critical stance, to not simply accept. Sun Xun’s works are alternative histories, which beautifully rendered, thrive off the fear they instill, the perplexion they instigate and the dark inquisitive attraction they project.
Sun Xun is widely considered one of China’s most talented rising artists. He was awarded in 2010 the Best Young Artists award by the CCAA, the Young Art Award by Taiwan Contemporary Art Link and the Arts Fellowship by Citivella Ranieri Foundation (Italy). Sun Xun has held multiple solo exhibitions around the world, most notably at the Hammer Museum (Los Angeles), The Drawing Center (New York), Kunsthaus Baselland (Basel), A4 Contemporary Arts Centre (Chengdu), Minsheng Art Museum (Shanghai) and the Louis Vuitton Taipei Maison (Taipei). He has also been included in numerous significant group exhibitions at the Skissernas Museum (Lund), Times Museum (Guangzhou), Jordan Shnitzer Museum of the Moving Image (New York), Minsheng Art Museum (Shanghai), Kunsthalle Bern (Bern) and Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts (Taipei), amongst others. Furthermore, his video work has been widely exhibited at film festivals around the world, from Germany and Austria, to Sweden, South Korea, Brazil and Iran.
“Sun Xun” Mathieu Borysevicz, July – October, 2008;http://hammer.ucla.edu/exhibitions/detail/exhibition_id/80
“Sun Xun：There is no standard in art” ArtWorld interview with Sun Xun, China Contemporary Art Award, 2010, p. 267
A book written by a US missionary in 1914, later passed to Sun Xun by a friend of him.