Sun Xun

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Mythology or Rebellious Bone (detail), 2021

ink jet print on archival paper, edition of 100, 1 AP
40 x 80cm (image size)
45 x 85cm (paper size)

This print edition was created by Sun Xun specifically for the Vancouver Art Gallery’s Artist Edition program in relation to his exhibition Sun Xun: Mythological Time on view at the Vancouver Art Gallery from February 20, 2021 – September 6, 2021.


About the Artwork

Sun Xun employs painting, printmaking and animation to produce ambitious works that contend with notions of time and history, fantasy and reality, ideology and myth. Mythology or Rebellious Bone (detail) represents just one section of an epic 31-metre scroll comprised of Buddhist deities and fictional gods, where history transforms itself into mythical folklore, and humans disappear without a trace. References to Chinese legends intermix with the artist’s own imaginings to create lively narratives of a land after time.


The painting references the eighteen arhats or luohan (羅漢) of Chinese Buddhism, the original followers of Gautama Buddha.  Having attained enlightenment, the luohan are charged with protecting the Buddhist faith while they remain on earth for the coming of the Buddhist Bodhisattva Maitreya. The luohan have been a popular theme in historic Chinese painting and ceramics.

The Chinese title shénhuà hé fǎngǔ (神話和反骨) incorporates the term fǎngǔ (rebellious bone), which according to urban legend says a person with a small bone protruding from the back of their neck is destined to be a traitor.  In this way, the artist asks whether narratives are also a form of mythology constructed to deceive individuals into accepting their reality. Several of Sun’s videos confront the paradox of parallel histories, particularly those taught to him in school textbooks verses the lived experience of history as recounted through his elders.

The scroll is a testament to Sun Xun’s skills in classical ink painting particularly the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279) including paintings by Chen Rong (1200-1266), a Chinese painter and politician celebrated for his depictions of dragons. Sun Xun’s 31-meter scroll painting was painted with natural pigments that the artist grinds and mixes himself. The paper is also hand-made and part of an on-going collaboration with a traditional artisan who employees ancient paper making techniques.


Artist Bio

Sun Xun has been exhibiting internationally since the early 2000s and his work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, 2008; Drawing Center, New York, 2009; University of Essex Gallery, Colchester, UK, 2009; Shanghai Minsheng Art Museum, 2010; Hayward Gallery, London, 2014; Saint Louis Art Museum, 2018; and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, 2018. Sun has also participated in numerous international group exhibitions and screenings. He is currently represented by ShanghART, Beijing, Shanghai and Singapore, and Sean Kelly, New York. He currently lives and works in Beijing, China.