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September 14, 2015 @ 9:00 am - September 20, 2015 @ 5:00 pm
Private view: 16th September
VIP reception: 17th September
RSVP essential: email@example.com
ART.ZIP is pleased to announce Sidelines, a solo show by Chinese-born recent Slade graduate Sun Yi, presenting work from several series created throughout his degree, between 2013 and 2015.
The exhibition comprises 40 works across a broad spectrum of drawing, sculpture, installation and performance – bound conceptually in their origins in the everyday. A free newspaper left on the tube, a bench, a packet of cigarettes, debris, nails, wood, wire and string may be small and insignificant, forming the backdrop of life, but constitute the central component of Sun Yi’s work, running through both the materiality and form of his practice. A highlight of the exhibition is a vast 6x3m canvas, rusted into by the incorporation of recyclable objects and materials donated by major recycling corporation Tianjin Xinneng Renewable Resource Co.
A young artist from Tianjin, Sun Yi is an important coordinate in the collision between the West and China. Sidelines has been staged as a summary of his artistic creation during his academic career in Britain, and his unique study and pathway gives far-reaching sociological significance to the show – he is a dynamic model of the conflict between tradition and modernity, east and west, usefulness and uselessness, passage and eternity, forwardness and backwardness, lightness and weightiness.
Currently also exhibiting in Wastelands, a group show at OVADA, Oxford, alongside some of China’s best known contemporary artists such as Ai Weiwei and Cao Fei, Sun Yi is swiftly establishing himself as an artist of particular relevance in the international market. Wastelands, aligning eight contemporary artists with strong ties to China, explores the notion of ‘waste’ as a result of consumption through different landscapes and materials, engaging in themes of neo-liberal ideologies, consumption, development and economies of culture. These themes – along with other key concerns of the artist – are manifest furthermore in Sidelines.
Trained as a young apprentice in the traditional Chinese arts of drawing, ink and calligraphy, Sun was largely independent of the official educational establishment – with that its political burdens – and able to develop a comprehensive appreciation of Chinese classical philosophy and culture. It is because of this engagement with tradition that he is able to carry the core values of traditional Chinese culture, with all its proper precision and restraints. In balance, China was during that period insulated from the Western understanding of contemporary art. In choosing to study at Slade, therefore, an inevitable logical leap brought about conflict, integration, and an appreciation that his earlier isolation was, in fact, an enabling factor in his ability to directly and purely access the context of authentic contemporary art. Through study, continuous self-overturn and cultural collision, Sun Yi nurtured within himself a unique artistic clue—a passion to overthrow the supposed status and property of matters, to examine identity, to reflect on and practice contradiction itself.
Top: Found material drawing No.1 (2015), from the White Objective Drawing series; Bottom right and left: from the Cutting series
Drawing remains central to Sun Yi’s oeuvre, present even in the sculptural and object-based work. Lines, composition and material are manipulated, extending the act of drawing into three-dimensional space. Function is denied in favour of a philosophical and aesthetical positioning in sculptural form. With drawing at the emotion of his work, as a fundamental aspect of cultural expression connecting low and high art, Eastern and Western cultural traditions, works are whittled down and worked on, yet left barely discernible as aesthetic objects in their execution.
In his work can be found the constant search for a kind of ‘imperfection’ that is philosophically aligned with with Daoism or Chan Buddhism – humility and acceptance being valued above any outward display of ego, spectacle, capitalism or neo-liberalism. In his shift to London, such values fused with other philosophical thinking, forging a constant dialogue with the thinking of such philosophers as Kant, Wittgenstein and Agamben, demonstrating Sun Yi’s broad range of intellectual engagement in issues of taste, value and language. Referring to aesthetics, the western philosopher Kant holds that art should be detached from concept, disinterested from concern and divorced from purpose, so that it will attain the ideal “zweckmassigkeit ohne zweck” (purposiveness without purpose). Such ideas are echoed with the Chinese artistic philosophy which pursues a state of freedom both in the mind and the hand.
“Art, as far as I have practiced it, seems to me like water, tasteless, but you could never live without it. Whatever forms it takes, I get bored as the excitement fades and as time passes, I even forget it ever existed…In Chinese culture, ‘non-existence means existence’, ‘existence means Dao (the way)’ and ‘Dao’ can never be literally explained. In terms of this idea, I am relentlessly striving for the ‘non-existence’ of my work. Perhaps ‘being’ and ‘not being’ are of no difference, they are meaningless in the end, nothing but a different way of thinking. We are a generation that is experiencing the most revolutionary and competitive era of Chinese history. Everything is unbelievably fast and unsettling. The faster the country develops economically, the faster it degenerates spiritually. This might be one of the reasons that pushes me to ‘understatement’, or, even ‘non-existence’.”
Above left: from the One Cent Project, 2014; Above right: December 8, 2014 (2014), newspaper, red acrylic, monoprint, 56x74cm
Sun Yi shattered the relationship between price and value of artwork through the One Cent project – the objects and the coin (also an object) become interchangeable in a value system that levels the field of values to a nominally flat plane. Here the art market is subtly invoked in a wry lowering of the stakes, as the question of materiality and culture is called in, in which artworks are shown up as exchanged in a distorted value system of cumulative capital and market forces.
Ultimately Sun’s works are an exploration of value as much as they are beholden to the aesthetic, cultural, social and economic – our very existence in a society is threaded together through value systems. Similarly, a news story may narrate the tragic, heroic or historic, but as an object, the story itself and the image, it is also dispensable, disposable, to be cast away until the next comes along. The artist reconstructs the connection between the timeliness and timelessness of news. By using throwaway newspapers, he satirizes the side effects of over-development, through the debris of ready-made products.
Equally ‘high art’ is set aside in Sun’s work, for small seemingly insignificant sketches that give back value through a small retrieval. The sketches, as meditational crossing and unravelling of connections, the daily act of calligraphy touches the surface lightly, allowing them to hover into view – to linger, reflect and reconnect. Sun’s is the opposite of spectacle or the often heightened language of contemporary art vocabulary in the mainstream art world. Perhaps in response to an earlier generation of forceful gestural work or giant-scale installations, he looks towards Twombly, On Kawara or Anastasi, whose works made different kinds of connections through drawing or marking time, as modes of touch, sensibility, sensory experience or acts of memory.
He works back into the underbelly, retrieving and considering what runs through society, manifesting itself in barely visible form, yet revealing disturbing ideologies and questionable modes of consumption. In a stratified economic value system, lowest common denominators are brought in such as pieces of wood, nails, string (dyed with ink), penny coins, scratching the base of our environment, showing a deep understanding of the ‘ordinary’ as essential and sustainable aspects of life. Sun calls drawing ‘an inexplicit and attractive object’ and perhaps this neat phrase describes his mode of practice.
Formally, Sun Yi’s work pursues a dialogue across different artistic vocabularies from China and the West, making connections with drawing, painting and sculpture as integral aspects of cultural production across time and space. The final works are accumulations of understandings of liminality, tension and the paradoxes that create the push and pull of forces and structures, in society and culture.
“Objective time’ and ‘spiritual space’ are impeccably pure, I regard the two as a perfect duo. Regardless of equality, we distinguish things as good and bad, beautiful and ugly, first and second, right and wrong, yin and yang, yes and no…
I love a connected world and a world of solitary independence.
I love sentimental tears, and indifferent streets.
I love seriousness, no less than craziness.
I love both the positive and the negative.
Existence as much as non-existence.”
Sun Yi, midnight, 23 June 2015
Performance Benches Holding Up (2014)
“He works back into the underbelly, retrieving and considering what runs through society, manifesting itself in barely visible form, yet revealing disturbing ideologies and questionable modes of consumption. In a stratified economic value system, lowest common denominators are brought in such as pieces of wood, nails, string (dyed with ink), penny coins, scratching the base of our environment, showing a deep understanding of the ‘ordinary’ as essential and sustainable aspects of life.”
Dr. Katie Hill, Exhibition Curator and Course Leader of the Asian Art & its Markets semester programme at Sotheby’s Institute
About the Artist
Sun Yi was born in 1988 in Tianjin, China. He now lives and works in London.
2013 – 2015 MFA Painting
University College London, Slade School of Fine Art, London, UK
2008 – 2012 BA Painting
Faculty of Oriental Art, NanKai University, Tianjin, China
Exhibitions and Projects:
2015 July – “Set Replication”, London, UK
February – “Xi You Xin Ji”, group exhibition at Carlton House, London, UK January – Performance “Bury the Ice Blocks”, Tianjin, China
2014 August – “Collaboration”, Cao Yu Theatre, Tianjin, China July – “One cent exhibition”, 798 Art Factory. Beijing, China
June – Performance “Benches Holding Up”, London, UK June – Solo exhibition “Suggestive Trajectories”, London, UK May – Performance “Turn”, London, UK
January – Performance “Shape and Cutting”, London, UK
2012 December – “Making”, commissioned installation for Tianjin Xinneng Renewable Resource Company, Tianjin, China
July – Organized “Oriental Art 9 Artists Show”, Tianjin, China.
2010 June – “Quotation”, commissioned project for Hospital of Baodi, Tianjin, China www.sun-yi.com
ART.ZIP is the first bilingual contemporary art magazine dedicated to bringing together the world of art in the UK and China. Distributed in both countries, it not only showcases the current best in art, from industry veterans to tomorrow’s innovators, but also provides a unique insight into other sectors in the creative industry with an eye for art.
About the curator: Katie Hill
Dr. Katie Hill is a course leader at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, leading the Asian Art and its Markets semester programme. She has extensive experience in the field of contemporary Chinese art, with a degree in Chinese from the University of Edinburgh and a PhD in art history from the University of Sussex. She is the Programme Leader of Art of Asia and their Markets at Sotheby’s Institute of Art – London, and is a regularly invited speaker for exhibitions and events in numerous institutions and galleries. Her recent work includes ‘In Conversation’ with Ai Weiwei, Tate Modern; selector panel/author, Art of Change, New Directions from China, Hayward Gallery, London and specialist advisor/author for The Chinese Art Book (Phaidon, 2013). She also co-edited a special issue of the journal Visual Art Practice on Contemporary Chinese Art and Criticality, published in 2012. She is director of OCCA, Office of Contemporary Chinese Art, an art consultancy promoting Chinese artists in the UK.
For further information, interviews or images please contact Tani Burns:
T: 0207 377 5665
M: 07888 731 419
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