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Havana Biennial 2019: Constructing the Possible Ocula Report Havana Biennial 2019: Constructing the Possible 17 Apr 2019 : Federica Bueti for Ocula

I first visited Havana in November 2016, a few days after Fidel Castro died, and just under a year before Hurricane Irma hit Cuba in September 2017. Since then, much has changed, including the hand-painted signs that punctuate the journey from the airport to the city centre, which today do not celebrate the revolution so much as the 'Unidad y...

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Andrew Stahl and Guo Xiaohui Ocula Conversation Andrew Stahl and Guo Xiaohui

The exhibition Beyond Boundaries at Somerset House in London (12 March–2 April 2019) marked the historic contributions of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing (CAFA) and the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London, on the occasion of their 100th and 150th anniversaries, respectively. Spread across several rooms of Somerset House's...

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The National 2019: New Australian Art Ocula Report The National 2019: New Australian Art 13 Apr 2019 : Elyse Goldfinch for Ocula

The National 2019: New Australian Art features work by 70 contemporary Australia-based artists split across three venues: the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Carriageworks, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) (29 March–21 July 2019), as curated by Isobel Parker Philip, curator of photographs at AGNSW; Daniel Mudie Cunningham,...

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Sun Xun

b. 1981, China

One of the most distinguished contemporary artists of his generation, Sun Xun (孙逊) deploys traditional Chinese ink painting and printing techniques to create drawings, paintings, animated films and installations of ambitious scale. Full of references to sources as diverse as Chinese mythology, European art traditions, literary classics and contemporary events, Sun Xun's thought-provoking works expose historical and current-day consumption, exploitation and political corruption.

As a result of the discrepancies between state-sanctioned and personal histories he observed as a child, Sun Xun is skeptical of history books. At school, he learned about the great achievements of the Communist Party without any mention of its darker moments, such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. However, at home, his parents told him about his family's past, which was one that lacked the glory he was taught in school. Consequently, many of Sun Xun's works are concerned with the inextricable relationship between history and power. Often taking a personal microcosm as a departing point, Sun Xun combines it with symbols and cultural references to explore the gaps in both individual and collective memory and consciousness.

Mythological Time (2016) is an exemplary representative of Sun Xun's approach to black holes in history. Commissioned by the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum in New York, the animated film consists of 5,000 frames hand-drawn by the artist in his characteristically bold, expressive brushstrokes. It opens with the landscapes of Fuxin, Sun Xun's hometown in northern China. Once treasured for its open-pit coal mine, the town now suffers from over-extraction and poverty. Sun Xun builds his sequences of energetic images from historical, contemporary and imagined sites and events: the Natural History Museum, a monumental statue of Chairman Mao with a group of revolutionaries gathered at its feet, falling trees, men climbing a giant fish, tanks, and mythological creatures morphing into the monument Worker and the Kolkhoz Woman (1937) and then the Statue of Liberty. Coal is a consistent presence throughout the video, at times depicted as crystal coffins with fossils inside, which refers to the memory of the coal-mining industry in Fuxin. By interweaving scenes of the city with those of other coal-mining regions across the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, however, Sun Xun suggests that the depletion of natural resources is by no means unique to Fuxin or China, but universal. Mythological Times brings attention to a history of exploitation that mankind has overlooked in favour of progress and profit.

In Mythological Time, a top-hat-wearing magician often appears to watch as the array of images unfold. He is one of the oldest and most recurrent motifs in Sun Xun's work, first appearing in Shock of Time (2006)—a stop-motion animation composed of 150 paintings and drawings on old Chinese magazines and newspapers from the 1950s and 1960s. Opening with the phrase 'History is a lie of time', and positioning a figure who is paid to play tricks on people as the animation's protagonist, Shock of Time's narrative disputes whether newspapers truly reflect the history of China. In the words of the artist, the magician is 'the only legal liar'.

The magician also figures large in the multimedia installation Republic of Jing Bang, Citizens Wanted! (2014), where he is the mentor of the imaginary world of Jing Bang ('Whale Nation' in Chines). Presented at Art Basel Hong Kong 2014, the artwork comprised a briefcase containing various items—a manifesto, a passport, an identification card and a national flag, among others—and an immigration booth that offered Jing Bang citizenship to 100 people for $10,000.

Sun Xun's distrust of authority and aptitude for satire were also evident in Brave New World (2014), a solo exhibition at Hong Kong's Edouard Malingue Gallery. Deriving the title of his show from Aldous Huxley's 1931 eponymous novel, the artist was also inspired by the dystopian literature of Yevgeny Zamyatin's We (1924) and George Orwell's 1984 (1949) to reflect upon recent Chinese history. As the centrepiece of the exhibition, the film installation What Happened in the Year of the Dragon (2014) included a screen attached to the rear of a taxidermy horse and flanked by two columns with orbs at their bottoms. The animated film begins with a battle between two dragons that alludes to the political scandal between the Chinese government and Bo Xilai (now imprisoned for corruption) in 2012 (the Chinese zodiac year of the dragon).

The installation was accompanied by Script for What Happened in the Year of the Dragon (2014), a 38-page album of comic-like sketches that recounts the same battle in the form of ancient myths. One line from the script, 'Today, everyone is pursuing a new world order in a global context', echoes the tendency among some Chinese artists to avoid censorship by avoiding direct criticism of the Chinese government. Sun Xun's solution to this quandary is to replace recognisable figures with visual metaphors—such as the dragons—as a means of criticising power on a global level, without explicitly stating names. As his works are loaded with symbols, however, their interpretation also depends on the viewer. In an interview with Ocula Magazine, Sun Xun explained that 'anyone can decide [the points at which they think about a work's meaning]. As long as you're willing to think you're welcome to do so'.

Sun Xun is the founder of the π Animation Studio, established a year after his graduation from the printmaking department of the China Academy of Arts, Hangzhou, in 2005. Initially based in Hangzhou, the studio moved to Beijing in 2009. In addition to holding multiple exhibitions at ShanghART in Beijing and Shanghai and Sean Kelly Gallery in New York, Sun Xun has recently showed his works at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney (2018); Arario Gallery Seoul (2017); Yuz Museum, Shanghai (2016); and Hayward Gallery, London (2014). In 2017, he was a part of the exhibition Zhongguo 2185 at Sadie Coles HQ, London, which invited ten Chinese artists born after 1976 to share their visions of the past, present and future.

Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2018
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Featured Artworks

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通向大地的又一道闪电 17 Mythological Time 17 by Sun Xun contemporary artwork Sun Xun通向大地的又一道闪电 17 Mythological Time 17, 2016 Ink and acrylic on bark paper
100 x 310 cm
The Coming Prophecy 神气之端 by Sun Xun contemporary artwork Sun XunThe Coming Prophecy 神气之端, 2017 Ink and colour on paper
220 x 1000 cm
Time Spy 20 by Sun Xun contemporary artwork Sun XunTime Spy 20, 2016 Woodcut painting
116.2 x 85.4 x 15 cm
Sean Kelly
Mirror Heart by Sun Xun contemporary artwork Sun XunMirror Heart, 2017 Ink and acrylic paint on handmade bark paper, golddust, silver dust, mineralpigment, ink, rabbit skin glue
The Different World by Sun Xun contemporary artwork Sun XunThe Different World, 2017 Ink and color on silk
20 x 320 cm
The Time Vivarium by Sun Xun contemporary artwork Sun XunThe Time Vivarium, 2014 Watercolour on paper
The Dreamer 幻想家 by Sun Xun contemporary artwork Sun XunThe Dreamer 幻想家, 2016 Acrylic on canvas, mineral powder
215 x 498 cm
Time Spy by Sun Xun contemporary artwork Sun XunTime Spy, 2016 Woodcut painting in 25 parts
Sean Kelly

Current & Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Group exhibition, The Avant-Garde is Not Afraid of a Long March 前卫不怕远征难 at ShanghART, Singapore
Open Now
16 February–28 April 2019 Group exhibition The Avant-Garde is Not Afraid of a Long March 前卫不怕远征难 ShanghART, Singapore
Contemporary art exhibition, Group exhibition, Side Lanes 辅路 at ShanghART, Shanghai
18 January–24 February 2019 Group exhibition Side Lanes 辅路 ShanghART, Westbund, Shanghai
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, White Flash at ShanghART, Beijing
5–31 August 2018 Group Exhibition White Flash ShanghART, Beijing

Represented By

In Ocula Magazine

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Sun Xun Ocula Conversation Sun Xun Artist

Born in 1980 in Fuxin, China, to a factory-worker and military family, Sun Xun's father advised him to avoid politics. He was encouraged by his family to move to Hangzhou at the age of 16 to pursue his studies as an artist at a high school affiliated with the China Academy of Fine Arts. It was at CAFA that the artist honed his aesthetic and...

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Ocula Report: The Tenth Shanghai Biennale Ocula Report Ocula Report: The Tenth Shanghai Biennale 12 Dec 2014 : Sam Gaskin for Ocula

Biennials are inherently messy. Gathering hundreds of pieces by international artists working in different mediums creates an exponential number of echoes and dissonances. Their messiness differs, though, in kind and degree, as exemplified in recent Shanghai Biennales.

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Art Basel Week Ocula Report Art Basel Week 13 May 2014 : Robin Peckham for Ocula

It is a funny thing to return as a visitor to a city one once called home: not so long ago I was a de facto host for the descending hordes during ArtHK and later Art Basel Hong Kong, but this year, for the first time, I am seeing it all through the eyes of an art tourist. As a city and as an art event, Hong Kong has always been a tightly wound...

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Sun Xun Ocula Conversation Sun Xun Artist, China

Sun Xun is a paradoxical figure: he works with ink but rejects the discourse of cultural purity that accompanies it. Dissects political narratives but takes only vague positions of his own, and runs an animation studio while developing a diverse practice that confronts much more radical questions. Based in Beijing, where he runs Pi Animation, he is...

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In Related Press

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ZHONGGUO 2185 at Sadie Coles HQ Related Press ZHONGGUO 2185 at Sadie Coles HQ ArtAsiaPacific : 27 October 2017

For Zhongguo 2185 at Sadie Coles HQ in London, curator Victor Wang brought together ten Chinese artists born after 1970 for a presentation that looked to the future. The show's theme was rooted in the ideas of science fiction author Liu Cixin, whose 1989 novel Zhongguo 2185, in which six computer-resurrected brains, including that of Mao Zedong,...

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'Tales of Our Time': Chinese contemporary art at the Guggenheim New York Related Press 'Tales of Our Time': Chinese contemporary art at the Guggenheim New York Art Radar Journal : 29 January 2017

Tales of Our Time is the second of The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Chinese Art Initiative, which seeks to commission new works relevant to Chinese contemporary art which will then enter the Guggenheim’s permanent collection. All the artists included in the exhibition were born between 1970-80, thus suggesting that the works on display in...

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New Art from China Renders Local Histories Fantastic, Futuristic, and Bloody Related Press New Art from China Renders Local Histories Fantastic, Futuristic, and Bloody Hyperallergic : 13 January 2017

In the corner of a small gallery on an upper floor of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, you are immersed in a bloody, bizarre, and strangely emotional tableau. Inside a floor-to-ceiling acrylic cage, a black robotic arm twirls around, sweeping bloody residue on the floor towards itself. Just as the arm’s plastic flap cleans one area, more liquid...

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'Prediction Laboratory': Chinese artist Sun Xun at Yuz Museum, Shanghai Related Press 'Prediction Laboratory': Chinese artist Sun Xun at Yuz Museum, Shanghai Art Radar Journal : 20 December 2016

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...

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