Analog and Digital Unite in Sun Xun’s Time Spy

Arts & Culture


For some, the analog and the digital exist in separate boxes. Analog denotes outmoded, painstaking and inflexible, qualities that run contrary to the speed and ease of creating in the digital realm. For Sun Xun, the world-renowned mixed-media artist from China, the analog and the digital are equally useful tools to be employed in pursuit of a desired effect. In Time Spy, Xun’s experimental film exhibited at The Ringling’s Asian Art gallery, he has managed to chisel away at the line between analog and digital to create a piece that is bold, bursting with life and unlike anything ever produced for the screen.

Trained in printmaking at the China Academy of Art, his work favors a more utilitarian, graphical aesthetic. His approach to film was also dictated in large part by circumstance. Unable to afford a camera while at the Academy, he chose to make his early films with a combination of hand-drawn animations and, in later projects like Time Spy, with woodcuts. “What gives him his individual style,” says curator Rhiannon Paget, “is a combination of his particular set of experiences.” The use of woodcuts gives this animated film the look of frenetic, stop-motion stamps, and in spite of the meticulous process of creating individual frames, the film bursts with movement.

The film lacks an obvious narrative, relying instead on surreal imagery to give viewers the impression that the fantastical often lurks just beneath or beside the real. Birds and tigers take flight, cogs and machinery churn, men in suits seem to pontificate on a world they appear to control—these all contribute to a message on power that is more meditative than moralistic. “He’s not so literalistic that he’ll criticize the Chinese government or call out Western imperialism,” says Paget, “he’s raising questions about how power and the formulation of history intersect, and how people’s lived experiences differ from the historical narrative.” As if to mirror this theme of subjective reality, the film requires the use of old-school 3D glasses, another filter through which reality is distorted. 

This mind-activating exhibit features a collection of woodcuts used in the film as well as a few of Xun’s ink illustrations. It runs through February 16th.

Photo courtesy of Sean Kelly, New York

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