I visited Shanghai in the late days of Winter 1999 with a purpose: to meet young Chinese artists from or living and working in Xangai (Portuguese spelling). I went to visit an old high-grade official art school as well as Shanghai leading architectural school, where I had a magnificent banquet cooked by a great chef. I also went to a top textile and fashion design school and even visited a modern dance studio on a freezing morning outside the inner city. Finally, I met Lorenz Helbling and the now-famous Shanghart Gallery. Here my curatorial endeavour got a real track in the art scene of Xangai. There was a thin line between the official art school and the new gallery buzz: the extreme influence of European modernity on artists above fifty-years-old, of American Pop Art on artists in their mid-thirties, and, finally, of Conceptual Art on the early-thirties. I remember to compare this Chinese epigonism with the Portuguese one. The style delay was much broader in China than in Portugal. However, both countries had to fight with strict restrictions that have had a severe impact on the possibility of developing independent creative strategies.
“Shanghai, which had been forcibly opened to the West in 1842 and boasted a newly wealthy clientele, was the logical site for the first modern innovations in Chinese art at the turn of the 20th century” (1). Influences arrive in China both from a modernising Japan, as well as from Europe and much later from America.
Even today we can find a sometimes dramatic echo of this zeitgeist shadow over Chinese artists, in particular over those that radically demand a Chinese voice in today’s art.
The way Sun Xun uses typical Chinese woodcut paintings to make cinema is an extraordinary example of how an ancient local tradition (full of drama during the Mao’s era) can successfully launch a dialogue about the material and historical substance of culture and art.
In particular Tears of Chiwen (1917), but also Time Spy (2016), try an almost impossible synthesis between the pre-industrial woodcut art-making with the quintessential of modern and contemporary art: the cinema. Sun Xun’s films mix hard painting with a dematerialised art form. What better example to discuss the flow of the art media along the 20th century and beyond.
1—Chinese painting by By Michael Sullivan, Jerome Silbergeld, Liu Qiyi
Sun Xun 孙逊
Tears of Chiwen
The Chiwen is a legendary animal decoration used on the both ends of the oriental ancient buildings’ roof ridge. Known as the dragon’s son, it is good at spewing waves and making rain, which helps prevent fire and bring good fortune to the house.
Tears of Chiwen is a metaphor. Tears symbolise water, happiness and sadness. Since the recent history of East Asia began, each country has absorbed Western cultures in its own ways, and now takes on a new look of Westernisation. The work Tears of Chiwen is a reflection on the modernity of East Asian Culture in the context of globalisation. — SUN Xun
Category: Short film
Techniques used: Drawing on paper
Directed by: Sun XUN
Production: PI ANIMATION STUDIO, Sun XUN
Artistic direction: Xun Sun
Script: Xun Sun
Storyboard: Xun Sun
Animation: Xun Sun, Xingye Chen, Yanping Yu, Fengli Lai, Yingjie Yin
Music: Fei Zhang
Editing: Chong Xu, Yingye Chen
Edition of 6 + 2AP