Chinese Artist Sun Xun Turns Hotel Quarantine into Freedom Studio

Sun Xun in his closed hotel in the middle of his work. Courtesy of the artist

When Observer virtually related to the Chinese artist Sun Xun, he had transformed an unfortunate situation into a proverbial opportunity. Sun Xun (b. 1980) traveled from Beijing to Shanghai in March 2022 to prepare for the opening of his new solo exhibition, “An endless journey” to ShanghART Gallery, which features multimedia works presented as a playful, multi-dimensional expressionist mood board of mythological presents and futures. Things didn’t go as planned.

The day before the opening, the government asked for the show to be postponed. COVID-19 had surged again. “I thought we would only need a few days,” he said. Observer. Then the lockdown orders came the next day. “The government told us it would last five days,” he adds. The artist bought some woodcut equipment to occupy himself before that, except five days turned into five more days. “And now it’s been ten and five days,” he laughs, from his hotel room – one of 26 million people under strict quarantine in Shanghai.

Between crates of empty Japanese beers, sincere jokes and puffs of cigarettes, he recounts his experience of confinement, artistic creation and resilience. When I ask him about his living conditions, he refuses to complain and dwells on the daily hassles. “Now I’ve started working on a new animated film,” he says happily of the busyness that fills most of his days.

Sun Xun established the Pi Animation Studio in 2006 and has since participated in several festivals, such as the Turin Film Festival in 2007 and the Internationale Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen in Germany in 2016. , high-contrast sketch that resembles the Shanghai Bund in its pre-war peak. “Art needs no excuse. Art is everywhere. ” And it’s. All over her hotel bathroom, toilet lid, mirror, windows, and more. His hotel room is his new studio.

One of Sun Xun’s works created on his mirror. Courtesy of the artist

When he ran out of art supplies, he turned to the beer cans the hotel staff quietly provided him with and the cut-out paper for the white inserts. “I use fruit and my shoes to make animations. Even beer bottles. I use everything,” he says. Sun Xun graduated in printmaking from the Chinese Academy of Fine Arts in 2005, but what he likes the most is improvising, recycling, mixing and challenging the limits imposed from outside.

Sun Xun’s distinctive style borrows elements and techniques from traditional Chinese ink-based art to create decidedly new landscapes and contemporary layers that engage with notions of surrealism, fantasy, and building art. an alternate world. His work was recently presented in New York, in the Asia Society Triennial “We Do Not Dream Alone” in 2020-2021. He then worked closely with curator Susan L. Beningson on July is coming soon (2019), a work of art that questions our relationship to history, truth, and freedom – themes that find uncanny relevance in today’s fuzzy storytelling.

“In Japan, I can get excellent quality ink. In the United States, good acrylic and oil. I use different styles. In Europe, I use pigments. In Holland, I used city garbage. We call it trash, but it’s really good art material. I use the possibilities. If you can only paint, it’s not enough. Artists must do everything, in all situations. Art is freedom. Freedom is more important than oil, woodcut and sculpture. Freedom gives power to the artist, not to the materials used. Art is a matter of mind, not talent,” he says, recalling a time when he could travel and visit other countries much more easily than today. He pauses. “New York is my favorite city.”

Although Sun Xun experienced a short lockdown in 2021, those unexpected 50 days in a hotel room in Shanghai seem different this time around. He turned to creating art and began documenting his practice online to maintain sanity and routine – staying up late, calligraphy to soothe his heart, eating lunch, working through the night, punctuated with the occasional drink and chant. and not so legal. (“Drinking and smoking are also very important!”)

Trash turning into materials in Sun Xun’s Containment Hotel. Courtesy of the artist

Sun Xun pondered. He analyses. It carefully weighs and choreographs its interaction with theoretical proximity and distance. “What is life? Life is your body and your soul. While our thoughts can be limited, he believes our souls can be limitless, mobilizing the imagination and transcending what appears to be a struggle at first. .

“The imagination has more power than an army”, he proposes, seeing in the imagination a reference, an indispensable toolbox in the adaptable palette of an artist. Imagination is an escape, a path to freedom. Reflecting on his current confinement, he philosophizes on the meaning of deprivation in the broad sense. “Our life can also be our prison,” he says, unless we turn our perception toward wholeness in emptiness and agency in difficulty. “Let’s fight this shit!”

Yet his parents’ health is deteriorating thousands of miles away and he cannot visit them. Pandemic restrictions are strictly enforced and one cannot travel to cities locked down under China’s “zero COVID” policy, even though it’s probably unbearable.

The isolation is relative because Sun Xun is able to follow international news. He wants to express his concern about the ongoing war in Ukraine and what it could mean for China. “I don’t agree with this war, it’s very stupid. I support Ukraine. Write this. I support Ukraine. He repeats it. It’s important to him.

Although he hasn’t visited any of his usual corners – New York, Japan, Europe – and many friends abroad, Sun Xun finds solace in exploring the potential of animated feature film as a malleable support and a form of language that pushes the boundaries. In this search for expansive movement, it perhaps indirectly imitates one of its protagonists, Xiaozhi, who travels to the land of Luocha described in his postponed solo exhibition as “a nation without history, without memory” ruled by a ghost.

Sun Xun at work in his closed hotel. Courtesy of the artist.

His new feature film, being edited at the time of writing, reinterprets the tradition of epic and fantastic tales. In the film, Sun Xun includes different aesthetics like those borrowed from the Chinese Han dynasty, but also Islamic traits (there are over 20 million Muslims in China), oil painting, woodcut, and Cold War-era diary given to him by a German collector. It’s a big business. Its composer is also in confinement and everything is taking much longer than usual. But it would take greater obstacles to break his resolve. “My mind is totally free. He’s still traveling,” he says with a smile behind his metal-rimmed glasses. “I can’t stop,” he adds after a thoughtful puff. “Never stops.”

He laughs before composing himself. “Let’s make a new culture!”

Chinese artist Sun Xun has turned his hotel quarantine into a studio of infinite freedom


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