Sun Xun’s latest exhibition is on show at Yuz Museum until 15 January 2017.
Launched in November 2016 and curated by New York-based art critic and independent curator Barbara Pollack, “Prediction Laboratory” is a select space for investigation and experimentation.
Born in 1980 in Fuxin in north-eastern China, Sun Xun is an eloquent champion for creative liberty, a visionary in the tradition of William Blake and Hieronymus Bosh. Graduating from the printmaking department of the China Academy of Art in 2005, he has made the uncommon leap from experimental animated film into the field of contemporary art, joining South African William Kentridge as a young champion of the medium.
The tradition of animation as a gesture of freedom, breaking constraints and pushing art to work in an expanded field has a long history in western avant-garde activity, from Futurists such as Bruno Corra and Arnaldo Ginna in the 1910s to the Cubist cinema of Walter Ruttmann and Hans Richter and experimental works with the form by Oskar Fischinger, Germaine Dulac, Norman McLaren, Robert Breer and Jan Lenica.
Feeding on the iconography of his animations, Sun’s other works also defy conventional categories with a fluid range of means. The work connects with 19th century symbolist attitudes; these artists also audaciously crossed between literary, graphic and fine art forms and valorised an aesthetic lifestyle alongside their creative production. “Prediction Laboratory” at Yuz Museum in Shanghai, Sun’s second museum show in China, includes butterflies and a stuffed parrot that chime with the fantastical jewel encrusted tortoise in Joris-Karl Huysmans’ novel, Against the Grain (1884).
Sun and curator Barbara Pollack have changed the white cube museum environment into a dense transitory space that requires the audience to continue the momentum of the work. Like the sardonic protagonist in Huysmans’ book, who isolates himself in a temple of sensation, Sun has a totalising vision that eclipses a direct view of the world. The works allude to universal issues, to social, political or religious dynamics, but all specific historical narratives and actors are veiled in dense allegorical imagery.
Two openings go out of this space into a square room bracketed by two huge apocalyptic scenes, Lie Machine and Fire (2016) and Silver Universe (2016). The former shows a black landscape where inexplicable heaps of material burn, the latter contains several owls with a figure on horseback central in the composition. The blackness of the drawing, its allegorical imagery and panoramic format echoes Picasso’s Guernica (1937) but Sun provides no clue as to the references of the image, other than the title that may evoke the decadence of classical art, the so called Silver Age, extending to the death of Marcus Aurelius, whose famous equestrian monument is mirrored in the pose of the mounted figure.
Indeed, in an introductory talk for this show, and in other recent interviews, Sun disavows direct symbolic meanings, preferring history to be mediated through human experience rather than inscribed as fact, just as he experienced the conflict between taught and oral histories in the 1980s when he was at school. He sustains that “works of art are primarily considered as one for productive circulation rather than a means of intellectual reflection.”
Cutting across this room is a low suspended shelf in the form of an arc. It supports an opened out folding book, The Fable of Jing Bang Sea World (2016). A metal panel displays two further multimedia works. There is a feeling that these works are connected but only the sense of disquiet and disruption is explicit. The sheer quantity of imagery, lacking an overbearing narrative, defies a static reading.
Sun has previously specified the significance of some recurring figures, such as the magician – a metaphor for a politician, a professional liar. As his work has matured he has become coy about explicit symbolic meanings; the audience has to decide. In this exhibition the reference to the Laboratory invites visitors to probe for interpretation. His comments, such as “art is a dream that emerges from an accumulation of continuing failures”, point to an ethos where the rich emblematic content of his oeuvre is carried in a creative wave rather than formulated as a programme.
The 12 films cover a period of ten years from, Utopia of the Day (2004) to What Happened in Past Dragon Year (2014). Each is a self-contained work but Sun suggests you do not watch them individually but be immersed in the overall mood of fragments and changes, “an all encompassing environment […] a tunnel of light and sound.”
Sun has made a ‘post-truth’ museum. He parodies the modern museum that embeds knowledge in media displays, combinations of artifacts and contextual material. The conventional museum visit evokes an understanding of the past; this experience confirms the foreboding confusions and anxieties of the present.
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