Artist Sun Yao takes us on a trip across the universe

Tan Weiyun
Solo exhibition at the Aurora Museum unfolds across two floors with work that spans a diverse array of themes that offer an insight into an artistic journey over the past 20 years.
Tan Weiyun
Artist Sun Yao takes us on a trip across the universe

The Aurora Museum recently unveiled solo exhibition "On the Waves of" by artist Sun Yao. Showcasing more than 50 pivotal works, the exhibition spans a diverse array of themes from his latest "Inner Universe" series to the compelling "Eternal Flame" and “Neverland” collections, offering a profound insight into Sun’s artistic journey over the past 20 years.

The exhibition, after a year of meticulous preparation, unfolds across two floors.

On the first floor, Sun’s “Inner Universe” creations take center stage. These pieces, large in scale and arresting in their presence, command the space, inviting onlookers to immerse themselves in the vivid colors and dynamic forms that characterize his recent exploration into more complex and emotionally resonant themes.

The curatorial vision for this floor transcends traditional display methods, seeking to encapsulate the concept of the universe within this series. Rather than being mounted against walls, the artworks are suspended in mid-air, creating an immersive experience akin to floating through a nebula.

Behind each piece, black mirrored surfaces reflect the artworks, allowing visitors to walk among the hanging canvases, enveloped in a dynamic interplay of light and reflection that echoes the vastness and mystery of the cosmos itself.

“Universe is a topic that greatly interests me,” Sun said. “It is unknown and infinite. Because of our own limitations, we yearn for the infinite and eternal. The eternity of the universe is actually meaningless or purposeless, yet humans seek the meaning of existence. Similarly, using painting to depict such a journey is kind of an exploration into our inner self.”

Artist Sun Yao takes us on a trip across the universe

This series continues the underlying philosophical approach that has characterized Sun’s previous work. His perspective on existence tends to be rather pessimistic, which is reflected in his art. In this collection, he frequently depicts scenes resembling storms, conveying a sense of an apocalyptic or end-of-the-world atmosphere. This motif underscores the turbulent and often chaotic nature of the universe, mirroring the tumult within our own inner worlds.

The painting "Inner Universe — Journey of The Self No.2" is a very striking piece. It showcases an evocative and abstract interplay of deep blues, muted grays, and intense reds. Its composition is marked by swirling patterns and dynamic brushstrokes, which simulate a tempestuous, storm-like atmosphere. At the center, the vivid red hues suggest a fiery core or celestial body, drawing the viewer into what resembles the heart of a nebula.

But if you look from a little distance, in the depths of this painting there's a subtle semblance of a face or portrait embedded within the chaotic swirls and vibrant hues. This ghostly visage, almost hidden among the fierce brushstrokes, acts as a mirror to the viewer, reflecting back their own image and emotions. It invites a deeper personal connection and introspection, suggesting that amidst the external tumult and cosmic chaos, there's a part of the self — fleeting and elusive — that is revealed only upon careful examination.

Designed by architect Tadao Ando, the museum features a tall cylindrical room. It’s challenging to utilize for exhibitions due to its unique architecture, but it finds the perfect match this time.

Artist Sun Yao takes us on a trip across the universe

A large monochrome artwork by Sun hangs suspended, its stark blackness resonating with the room’s austere elegance. The painting, inspired by space odyssey films, captures the dark expanses of a starry sky or the deep, nocturnal ocean, blurring the boundaries between celestial and marine realms.

The cylindrical space, soaring and solemn, serves as a monumental link between humanity and the cosmos, or reminiscent of a lighthouse standing guard over the sea. It probably symbolizes the pinnacle of human rationality and its striving toward the infinite.

Sun’s inspiration from interstellar imagery is evident, yet his approach to the cosmos is profoundly personal.

Rather than depicting a literal starry expanse, he delves into the human anatomy, likening the cosmos to the bones and nerves of a human being. Some areas of the painting resemble an X-ray, highlighting structures akin to neural endings — a reflection of the period in 2014 when Sun suffered a bone fracture.

The seemingly disparate realms of microscopic nerves and the vast cosmos are intricately connected, suggesting a profound philosophical statement about the nature of existence. The minute structures within us might mirror the immense expanses of the universe.

Ascending the spiral to the second floor, the architectural design by Tadao Ando cleverly incorporates a cross within the museum's layout. This cross-shaped area evokes the sanctity of an altar, creating a spiritual and contemplative atmosphere.

Artist Sun Yao takes us on a trip across the universe

At the entrance, directly ahead, hangs a painting that the artist particularly cherishes. Resembling a womb, it symbolizes birth and new beginnings.

On either side, two narrow halls extend from the cross's arms, each illuminated in colors that underscore their themes: vibrant green on the right signifies life's vitality and growth, while fiery red on the left indicates rebirth.

Together, these artworks reflect the cyclical nature of existence — birth, flourishing, and renewal, harmoniously integrated within the sacred architectural design, prompting profound reflection on life's journey.

If you go:

Date: Through May 19

Hours: 10am-5pm, Tuesday to Sunday.

Address: 99 Fucheng Road, Pudong New Area 富城路99号

Admission: 60 yuan

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