SUN XUN, What Happened In the Year of the Dragon (front), 2014, animation: 10 min. Installation view of “Brave New World” at Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong. Courtesy Edouard Malingue Gallery.

Brave New World

Sun Xun

Edouard Malingue Gallery
Hong Kong

Chinese artists like Ai Weiwei and Guo Jian face censorship issues in their native country for their politically sensitive artworks. In contrast, emerging contemporary artist Sun Xun was able to subtly express his political stance and managed to elude censorship in “Brave New World,” his solo show at Edouard Malingue Gallery in Hong Kong. During the two-month exhibition period, which started in May, the ingenious artist used ink art, pastel sketches and animation to challenge the Chinese government’s “official” account of its own history and also to provoke viewer’s thoughts on these issues.

Named after a classic novel written by Aldous Huxley in 1931, which narrates an imaginative future where free will and individuality are traded for social stability, “Brave New World” acted as a continuity of this story. The exhibition explored the power struggles in our society—seeing it as a world controlled by governments and technology. Covering a relatively dark and serious topic of real-life dystopia, Sun presented his version of “truth” and reality to the public and encouraged viewers to have different interpretations of his ideas.

Situated at the center of the gallery was an installation with a video screen. The back of the screen was attached to the rear of a taxidermied horse. Two stuffed roosters stood imposingly above the screen as if they were starting a fight. The screen was supported by two round sculptures—an earth and a moon. As the majestic installation stunned viewers, a ten-minute animated film entitled What Happened In the Year Of the Dragon (2014) playef on the screen. The film begins with a battle of two dragons flying between layers of auspicious red clouds. The fight supposedly symbolizes a political scandal that took place in 2012 (the year of the dragon, according to the Chinese zodiac) between the Chinese government and Bo Xilai, a former star of the Communist Party. The animation features a magician in a top hat and suit, a horse’s backside, a prisoner and many other imaginative characters. Each of them represent a deceiving nature of our society, and the unrecognizable locations that they are shown in are like settings of a dark fiction novel. In this film, the artist has created a world where the magician (“the only legal liar,” in the artist’s words) rules everything, and the other people are not really as happy as they seem on the surface. It is a fictional universe that viewers could relate to and associate with the real world that they are living in.

SUN XUN, Script For What Happened In the Year of the Dragon, 2014, ink on rice paper, 38 pages: 33 × 33 cm each. Courtesy Edouard Malingue Gallery.

SUN XUNA Historic Moment, 2014, ink on photographic paper, 111.2 x 160.5 cm. Courtesy Edouard Malingue Gallery.

Meanwhile, located by the gallery entrance was a 38-page album, entitled Script for What Happened in the Year of the Dragon (2014), which feature comic-like sketches and paragraphs that serve as a literal explanation of Sun’s eponymous animation film. The “script” tells the story in the form of ancient myths, describing the fight between “The Dragon Party” and “The Qilin Party” (the unicorn-like qilin is seen as one of the “Four Benevolent Animals” in Chinese tradition, along with the dragon, tortoise and phoenix). The exhibition at Edouard Malingue consisted of layers of political metaphors, which the audience were able to experience by looking at some of Sun’s original sketches that were hung on the gallery walls. Powerful and strong brushworks and expressive colors, including red and blue, are widely used in his paintings. A painting entitled A Historic Moment (2014), which juxtaposes landscape with human skulls, summarizes the morbidity of Sun’s works. The strip of red color for the lower foreground appears like a pool of blood, as it echoes with the coldness of the blue-painted background.

As stated in Script for What Happened in the Year of the Dragon, “Today, everyone is pursuing a new world order in a global context.” This notion resonates with the dilemma of today’s Chinese artists who are trying to present their version of truth in their works, while sidestepping direct criticisms and confrontations. Sun’s works show international audiences that art allows the artist to express his condemnations to the government without spelling them out. Sun emphasizes, on a global level, that many people are ruled by powerful parties and that China is not the only government that is guilty of such doings. Furthermore, Sun’s works proposes questions to viewers without providing answers. “Brave New World” was a call for people to participate actively in society and stop being nonchalant about its issues. In Hong Kong, where the exhibition was held, different social groups have recently started to get involved in activism and publicly voice their needs in the form of protests. In this way, perhaps it is time for us to be brave and gain back control of one’s life and society.