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b. 1981, China

Sun Xun Biography

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.

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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 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

Exhibition view: Group Exhibition, Cache: From B to Z, ShanghART, Shanghai (12 April–30 August 2020). Courtesy ShanghART.

Sun Xun Featured Artworks

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Sometimes Memory Does Lie by Sun Xun contemporary artwork
Sun XunSometimes Memory Does Lie, 2014Pastel on canvas
80 x 140 cm
Sean Kelly Contact Gallery
Sea Dragon by Sun Xun contemporary artwork
Sun XunSea Dragon, 2018Folding screen, kumohada hemp paper, ink and colour, gold foil
172 x 387 x 2.2 cm
ShanghART Contact Gallery
Mirror Heart by Sun Xun contemporary artwork
Sun XunMirror Heart, 2017Ink and acrylic paint on handmade bark paper, golddust, silver dust, mineralpigment, ink, rabbit skin glue
Arario Gallery Contact Gallery
The Time Vivarium by Sun Xun contemporary artwork
Sun XunThe Time Vivarium, 2014Watercolour on paper
ShanghART Contact Gallery
The Dreamer 幻想家 by Sun Xun contemporary artwork
Sun XunThe Dreamer 幻想家, 2016Acrylic on canvas, mineral powder
215 x 498 cm
ShanghART Contact Gallery
Time Spy 16 by Sun Xun contemporary artwork
Sun XunTime Spy 16, 2016Woodcut Painting
91.5 x 61 cm
ShanghART Contact Gallery
Macondo by Sun Xun contemporary artwork
Sun XunMacondo, 2015Water colour and ink on bark paper
307 x 127 cm
ShanghART Contact Gallery
Citizenship Box by Sun Xun contemporary artwork
Sun XunCitizenship Box, 2013Briefcase
48.5 x 57 x 11 cm
STPI - Creative Workshop & Gallery Contact Gallery

Sun Xun Current & Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Cache: From B to Z at ShanghART, Shanghai
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12 April–30 August 2020 Group Exhibition Cache: From B to Z ShanghARTWestbund, Shanghai
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Visionaries: The Special Project for MSAC 10th Anniversary I at Mind Set Art Center, Taipei
8 February–7 March 2020 Group Exhibition Visionaries: The Special Project for MSAC 10th Anniversary I Mind Set Art CenterTaipei
Contemporary art exhibition, Sun Xun, The Release of the New Film 'Magic of Atlas' and Experimental Space at ShanghART, Shanghai
2 November 2019–20 February 2020 Sun Xun The Release of the New Film 'Magic of Atlas' and Experimental Space ShanghARTM50, Shanghai

Sun Xun Represented By

Sean Kelly contemporary art gallery in New York, USA Sean Kelly New York
ShanghART contemporary art gallery in Singapore ShanghART Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore

Sun Xun In Ocula Magazine

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Art Basel Launches Online Showrooms After Cancelling HK Show Ocula News Art Basel Launches Online Showrooms After Cancelling HK Show Hong Kong, 21 February 2020

With tens of millions in China confined to their homes, galleries and institutions have likewise pivoted to online events.

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Sydney Lowdown: Exhibitions to See Ocula Report Sydney Lowdown: Exhibitions to See By Elyse Goldfinch, Sydney

The fifth edition of Sydney Contemporary will take place once again at Carriageworks between 12 and 15 September 2019, with Spring 1883 bringing together a cohort of 27 galleries from across Australia and the region to inhabit rooms at the Establishment Hotel from 11 to 14 September 2019, uniquely presenting contemporary works propped up on...

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Sun Xun Ocula Conversation Sun Xun By Tess Maunder, Sydney

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 By Sam Gaskin, Shanghai

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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Sun Xun In Related Press

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

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...

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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 29 January 2017, Art Radar Journal

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 13 January 2017, Hyperallergic

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 20 December 2016, Art Radar Journal

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...

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