'An Infinite Journey' is struggling to see the light of the day

Wang Jie
Artist Sun Xun creates a spontaneous exhibition without a certain theme inside a hotel room during the lockdown in Shanghai.
Wang Jie
SSI ļʱ

It seems that the months-long lockdown has made Sun Xun's first solo exhibition in Shanghai both memorable and forgettable.

The 42-year-old artist flew from Beijing to Shanghai to prepare for the launch of his new show "An Infinite Journey." It was supposed to be his first solo show at ShanghART, with a 30-minute animation film, large-scale woodcuts and original animation drawings on display.

Sun's visual language comprises primarily of metaphoric imagery, dark and passionate hand sketching, and a dreamy narrative. His animated films have been screened at the Toronto and Venice film festivals.

The artist checked in at the JI Hotel on Tianyaoqiao Road in Xuhui District on March 7, and ended up spending the next two and a half months within the 25-square-meter hotel room due to the lockdown.

He used his time to keep himself busy – painting on everything from the window to the sheet, sink, mirror, toilet cover and tea tray in the hotel room.

"My friends have asked me how I can reimburse the hotel," he said, laughing. "Believe it or not, I am still staying there."

It is understandable for an artist to feel a bit down when the government orders the gallery to postpone exhibitions due to the COVID-19 resurgence on the eve of the opening of a large-scale solo exhibition.

"The lockdown orders arrived the next day. It was supposed to last five days, according to the administration," Sun said.

Fortunately, the artist had purchased some painting and woodcut materials before the lockdown.

"I know some people feel sorry for me," he explained. "But for me, this is more like a one-of-a-kind impromptu display without a specific subject."

Sun believes there should be no premise for art, just like in life.

"Art is expression about freedom when you are not free, and that is the basic core and function of art," he said.

'An Infinite Journey' is struggling to see the light of the day
Ti Gong

Sun Xun left his mark on almost everything in his hotel room during his long stay.

Sun gathered and collected flower petals in the parterre at midnight when he ran out of color pigments. He boiled and fermented them until he got "his colors."

He progressively changed the difficult situation into a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for an artist.

"In every situation, an artist should do everything. Art is freedom, and freedom is more valuable than oil, woodcut or sculpture. It's about your spirit, not your expertise, and it's not about the materials you employ."

For example, he animated with fruits and shoes, as well as beer bottles.

"I utilize everything that is available," he said. "I wanted to use the wooden headboard but was stopped by the hotel manager, because they couldn't find a new headboard had I worked on it.

"But he then gave me a wooden tea tray for engraving."

Born in 1980 in Fuxin, Liaoning Province, Sun was accepted into the middle school affiliated with the China Academy of Arts in Hangzhou, where art students were exempted from the study of mathematics. He later majored in the Printmaking Department after discovering that the students were free to create their own designs.

A year after his graduation in 2005, Sun established his own animation studio. In 2006, he started applying to film festivals. Soon, his short animated films stood out because he was a stickler for tradition, insisting on hand-drawn sketches or woodcut prints to make his films, rather than depending on computer graphics.

It is a shame that many of the paintings he created in the hotel room will be wiped clean. However, even if these works did not exist, there would be something deep that would nourish the artist.

Sun is still staying at the hotel. His solo exhibit at ShanghART, however, remains closed to the public. It is scheduled to end in August.

"Would you experience any sense of lockdown if you were an ant who spent your entire life inside the hotel? I don't believe the lockdown is more powerful than I am."

'An Infinite Journey' is struggling to see the light of the day
Ti Gong

Sun's painting on the toilet cover

SSI ļʱ

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