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Sun Xun: The Time Vivarium
Solo Exhibition Sean Kelly, New York, U.S.A., 475 Tenth Avenue
Date: 12.13, 2014 - 01.24, 2014

Artists: SUN Xun 孙逊

Opening Reception:December 12
Second Opening: Janary 6

Time Vivarium

Museum of Natural History

Years later, I am not sure whether I would find a mountain in my memories that’s not quite majestic, covered in little vegetation by bushy pines and small cypress. They are mostly grown on the side where the sun could reach. The shady sides are barren and covered in stones, spotless and dull. A bunch of foxtail grass is tucked under the rocks, a few small yellow flowers jump out in between. Looking afield, the thumb size grey butterflies and a few small cabbage white moths flutter among the scattered yellow flowers. There are a few mounds covered in wild grass here and there, piles of white paper trash have weathered the force of nature are scattered around the mounds indistinctively. A few of the mounds are big and tall, whiffs of faint scents from the black earth are in the air in spite of being wrapped under layers and layers. Half of a brick is at the top of the large mound, where a piece of yellow coarse paper is tucked under it. Someone has recently visited this grave. The short mounds are abandoned graves. The hidden skulls in the grass are visible, from time to time, pointy and green-headed ants with pink feathers fly out of the eyes of the skulls, making fluttering sounds.  Apparently, there has been rare and few purple ganoderma grown off the side of the grave. That ganoderma was made into soup for women to cure any disease. In particular, ganoderma grown on the casket are objects of yin, for this very reason, men should not drink its soup. As to what would happen if one does? No one actually knows. There are a few ponds in the mountain, and the water in the ponds has dried at certain places, flowing nonchalantly towards the artificial reservoir a few miles away. In the rainy season, there are half as many mosquitoes from the other years, it’d be hard to tell in the years of drought, because the tadpoles would have less chances to transform into frogs or toads. There were five lamas living in the mountain. They used to live in a Potala Palace-style lama temple, without keeping up with maintenance for many years, half of the temple was destroyed in a big fire, and only the statues of the Buddha are still standing there.  The lamas had to take turns to stay with the local household at the foot of the mountain. Other than helping the farmers out during busy season, they would chant sutras while clapping their hands in the mountain the rest of the time. Behind the temple, there was a large bean field. At the peak of every summer, the chirping crickets, cicadas and grasshoppers would go on endlessly. All of the noisy insects inhabited the bean field, and all of them had a pair of “hidden wings”, there is a small and round “mirror” only on one of their wings, but not the other. In fact, none of the insects chirps through its mouth, but making sound by grinding one wing over the “mirror” of the other. The elders would say, “If the insect can grind people figures on the “mirror”, they would live through the winter and speak like people in the following spring.”

Since these five lamas moved out, many animals in the mountain have made the temple into their homes. There were crows, owls and wild cats that came from nowhere, hidden behind the Buddha’s warrior attendant holding a pipa. The other three warrior attendants were burnt down in the fire. Only one was preserved, its body is black and shiny, completely charred. What was above the attendant has collapsed, exposing a patch of sky. From time to time, eagle kites would above the lama temple. The warrior attendant was placed in front of a statue of Sakyamuni Buddha - originally a coloured clay figure with certain parts painted gold. Since the collapse of the temple, without any conservation effort, the Buddhist statue has long lost its glow, at the same time, it seemed more humble and kind, revealing its genuine beauty. The back of the statue was damaged, after a while, it became a hole where a red fox occupied after sunset, and left again at dawn. According to the villagers in the mountain, they often heard the chanting of sutras late at night coming from the decrepit lama temple, occasionally, a few sparkles of light, and nothing would seem different on the next day. There are many ghosts and bizarre stories in the countryside, and no one actually cared. Gradually, no one would visit the ruins of that temple. From time to time, you’d spot a few domestic animals in the direction of the lama temple meandering down the mountain.

At the peak of this mountain, there was a Tibetan Buddhism cliff stone. Esoteric Buddhism passed through Mongolia and arrived here. It seemed like white Tara was engraved on the cliff stone. On the back of the stone, there was a line of characters carved out, “Mao Zedong’s thoughts and Ematu Mountain will live eternally!” The characters have been once painted in red, but there are only brown traces left. Only the “seven” is slightly visible in the character “Mao”. There are a few jujube trees next to the cliff stone. Through its thorny branches, one can see a bottomless hole on the ground far away. The edge of the hole overlaps with the horizon at the distance, and the sky is above that line. A huge cone, in black, sits next to the hole, its peak pointing towards the sky. The faint purple cloud evenly dispersed towards the sky above the center of the hole, soon transforming into the glamorous and untainted cobalt blue exuding its beauty into people’s minds. Above that, the endless whiteness stubbornly makes one believe all the legendary stories above it are real: a white dragon with an invisible tails inadvertently fell into the hole and was transformed into endless streaks of white smoke reaching for the heavens. The other end was tied to various trains and locomotives, pulling these vehicles out from the depth of the earth, circling at the bottom of the hole toward the space in front of one’s eyes. Most of these trains and locomotives were made in the U.S.S.R. and Japan, but some were made by the Shenyang Automobile Factory. The Mao Zedong slogans were painted red on the carts. Coal and swarthy fossils piled in the carts, there were trilobites, nautilus, also sea turtles and ciliate desert-grass, rusty rifles and hand grenades, with which, a series of stories that have taken place a long time ago roared without any embellishment. The experience of time and space is instantly subverted by this hole before one’s eyes, and people’s consciousness has never been as limited.

A few large chimneys stood next to the huge cone, grey-whitish smoke belched out of the chimney, rolling into the sky, and eventually blended with the clouds. If you squint your eyes, as if a pile of “matchboxes” are scattered around scene, this is a city. Everything unfolded in this city was concerned with the largest coalmine in Asia and equally, the largest power plant in Asia. In other words, the coalmine and the power plant established this city. The Ematu Mountain marks the tallest peak of this city. And the huge cone is the “Dun bass mountain” - “dun bass” is what cannot be burned from the coalmine, and it’s been there since the mine opened. The order of mining at an open-pit coalmine is that it begins from the surface to the depth of the earth, and the “dun bass” has been piling in the last few decades in the same order, until the “spirit of history” reached the sky.

As spring went into summer every year, the northwest gust from Mongolia would usher the entire city under the dark mist. Other than the sun, everything turned dark, and coal dust became the only annotation of this city, a layer of “historical dust” quietly covered all places, as if the city was accessible to any moment of the past.

“Once I joined in the Truth committee study group, I realized the diversity of its people. Some of them are inmates reforming through labour, train conductors, political commissar of the marines, school principals, thieves, rapist, secretary general of the Funxin Mine of the former Qilin Party, painters and evildoers. There are also witches and exorcists, fake drug peddlers, magicians, diviners, and all of them were my classmates. There is also a small group who were landlord of the capitalist class, rich farmers, anti-revolutionaries, rightists and the various handicaps.” Carpenter Sun gobbled down some liquor, as he smacked his mouth, he touched the beared around his mouth. As the son of the militia troop of the former government, he was a  “bastard” who could neither go to school nor work, but to receive education and reforms through the Truth committee. Of course, time has simplified the power of the legends. The son of Carpenter Sun filled his father’s glass wine.

Museum of Memory History

In mid-May 1968, a spiraling gust descended with coal dust and golden sand, relentlessly fumbled towards an insignificant brick kiln and taking everything with it. Carpenter Sun worked there where he’s been baptized with the Truth. The spiraling gust is possessed by the weasel spirit, and became a muddy monster, all of its hair stood up and its body was in spaz to the left and right, aimlessly. Its body is stirred by all kinds of trash, and it bangs its head on the large speaker on the square of the brick kiln. The rim of the speaker is casted by a large and hard red circle, hiding a deep and mysterious darkness within. Suddenly, a red dot jumps out from the centre of the red circle, hanging aloofly above the darkness, a thin and indistinct pole behind the red dot re-stamped into darkness. Behind the loudspeaker, a few finger-thick iron sticks jumped out, reluctantly climbed up the trunk of a big poplar, every finger wrestled with itself. Like this, the big poplar supports that awkward loudspeaker that squat at the tip of the branch like a parasitic monster.  The moment the gust of wind became a monster and banged on the loudspeaker, everything seemed to be forgotten and softened, like a poodle pleasing its master, rolling around on the ground. The little square was full of trash. Weasels often frequented this small brick kiln, and there were many stories of the weasels possessing people.

“Production is dismissed, all workers meet at the workers’ canteen, and please tally all your team members”, the loudspeaker on the small square repeated the same broadcast a few times. Everyone rushed towards the canteen mentioned in the loudspeaker. A group of representatives from the Truth Liberation Army marched in with utmost determination and stepped onto the stage at the front. The representatives were not wearing the same uniforms, some in dark green, others in hay yellow, and only two of them wore blue cyan trousers. Only the burgundy sam browne belt at their waists are the same, as well as, the rectangular collar badge and the star on their hat in bright red, as symbols of their loyalty to the revolution. At the revolution meeting, no one made any introductions or applauds. There has not been any recital of the big brother’s slogans. The liberation representative faced the people and glanced his surrounding. A roll of portraits of the revolutionary leaders hung on the wall behind him. “At present, class struggle is severe, the class enemies are fighting back restlessly, and we have to blow the highest typhoon towards the class enemies! We are not fierce enough to the class enemies. The enemies among you continue to cause trouble and destructions! We have to forcefully implement the proletariat democratic dictatorship!” said the liberation representative, standing at the front with a stern look. As he finished his phrase, he squinted his eyes to thin lines, a white lightening flashed by his red star on his forehead. Time stopped, everyone stared at this liberation representative who was biting his lower lips, while their peripheral vision saw his slightly trembling chin. Instantly, the space was filled with formaldehyde, the leaders portraits behind the representatives suddenly transformed into a few faint colored deep ocean monsters that traversed through those on stage, as if they were coral reefs with stars. They turned around slowly and dispersed into the people, sniffing everyone’s face. Suddenly, a stern voice ripped the sterile atmosphere, “Bring out the class enemies of your factory!” Another liberation representative turned his head slightly towards the door. His tone sounded both like an order and a judgement call, and whose look carried hatred and disdain. The monster fish disappeared, possibly having possessed the bodies of the representatives. The three trussed up people marched in with the red guards have been waiting outside, they dragged these three people and unloaded them on stage as duffle bags, and gave a few kicks to each person. The members of the red guards pulled on the hair of these three while they cursed at them, asking them to kneel on stage with their upper body straight, and their chins pointing towards the fluorescent light on the ceiling. The oily electric fan next to the light only had two pieces left, was spinning reluctantly. These three are dressed as usual, three slick “black serpents” wriggle as they constrict these three class enemies, the hemp ropes were thick and soaked in grease. As these people became exhausted, they bodies were bound more tightly. Most of the people there are stoked, and they’ve only recognized these three people after they calmed down: the former party secretary general of the Qilin Party at the Fuxin Coalmine, former secretary general of the Big Brother Party of the small brick kiln, and the headman of the accountants at the small brick kiln. “The lagging production and the passive movements are directly related to these three class enemies, and there are many more than just these three, a lot more! Here, I wish these people would confess honestly, in order to be treated with leniency. If you are restless and ready to cause trouble, this will be your fate.” The liberation representative bid his lips after he finished these fixed lines, he and the rest of the Truth Liberation soldiers shook hands and bid goodbye with the workers representatives, they rushed out of the canteen, like how they first arrived.”

Once everyone rightfully messed up the revolutionary period, the people finally voted for the Big Brother Party, and established a new model for the nation. The big brother was as much of a spirit as a belief, because no one has ever seen what the Big Brother looked like, and the Big Brother believed the only way out was to destroy God and establish a new god, the big brother also believed that other than the disabled, those with two eyes should be equal, ranging from how many bowls of rice one could eat to the number of underwear one owned. Whoever wished to enjoy exceptions were the anti-revolutionary and were condemned by the people! The Big Brother Party actively organized revolutionary troops in the prolonged armed resistance of the Japanese, not only for the sake of national independence, but also for democracy and freedom. The consistent revolutionary spirit exemplified by the Big Brother Party gradually became a pillar of strength in the national self-renewal movement. Unlike the former ruling party, the Qilin Party, whose first party representative meeting was held at a defunct zoo, and its initial members were mostly laid off animal-keepers from that zoo. Since the mystic animal qilin conjures all animals’ traits, thus it qualified the name for the party. Not only was the Qilin Party shortsighted, it was also corrupt. Other than its pessimistic resistance to outsider invasions, it made peace with the Japanese and exploited the people. It was an anti-revolutionary party. Moreover, there were many internal strives within the party. After the Japanese was defeated, the armed brigades of the Big Brother Party soon changed their name to the Truth Liberation Army, and the revolutionary fire instantly spread nationwide, and fully annihilated the despicable former administration. The Truth Liberation Army led by the Big Brother Party kicked out the remnants of the Qilin Party. My grandfather was almost kicked out too – a headman of the Qilin militia. Just before it happened, my grandmother brought him back to inherit the family property. Consequently, he also inherited the classification of being anti-revolutionary. As a result, his properties were confiscated. In the end, the Qilin Part could only dwell on a lonely island called “Qilin Island”, isolated from the rest of the world - it finally met its fate and deserving consequences. Other than these stories, there are very little details on the history textbooks, for me, the stories that Carpenter Sun can recall are often juicier and sounded more interesting.

“The three class enemies on stage have already flung themselves to the ground, their heads against the corner, only as such could they relax. As long as they were motionless and made no physical attempt as they stopped all brain activities, all of the pain and shame stopped growing, they even seemed to slowly acclimatize being completely still. Perhaps the pain would become their friends. At this moment, it has became a relief for these three, unlike those off stage, who were worried about the next class enemy, or when it might be their turn. When one is confronted with hardship, those who were first struck seemed to have an advantage over the others. Then, the workers’ representatives went up to the stage, skewed at the captives glued on the floor, and stood at an open space after passing around their bodies. The workers’ representatives could neither pity them nor blow the strongest typhoon at them, while showing expressions of despise and the basic humanitarian empathy. Especially under the watchful eyes of the masses, this class struggle was like a gamble, no one was sure who’d be the next loser, or who would always win. Even to consider the movement as the strongest typhoon and think it would never return, this one might come back again. Rather than calling it the strongest typhoon, it’s more like a tornado, and no one would like to stand at the eye. The only safe solution was to use all of one’s might to recite the Big Brother’s verses. “Long Live the Big Brother’s Thoughts, Long Live!” “Down with all the reactionary capitalist road runners!” “Those who are against the Big Brother are the aliens of the motherland!” “The Big Brother is the helmsman, those who are against him should have their hands chopped off!” Without exception, people screamed in excitement, and everyone demonstrated their loyalty to the revolution to those in the surrounding. At the same time, everyone was suspicious of everyone else, suspicious of whether others were suspicious of. The power of fear maintained as fears balance among people, and everyone became a second-hand politician, and everyone was an amateur undercover, and everyone became a sole performer, and everyone became an awkward magician. “Using the blood and soul to pacify the pacific, and liberate the American Continent!” “The Blacks also have two eyes, Support Africa!” Everyone was afraid to miss out on the inexpensive opportunity to perform like the present. The workers’ representative led the people recite a series of slogans in unison and announced the dismissal of the meeting. The red guards dragged those three “duffle bags” onto the green Liberation truck parked on the square, this entire process underwent silently.

In the afternoon, people gossiped while they worked, “These three captives must be members of the Qilin Party, one was a capitalist road-runner of the Big Brother Party, served him right. How come was the accountant captured?” “There are rumors from the workers representatives that he’s a big spy!”

“His name is “Li Te”, someone thinks he is a spy because of his name.”

“It was only clarified at the end of the revolutionary movement, Li Te was an accountant, and his job was to tally the workers’ salary according to their production. Once he made a mistake and missed sixty some cents in his remittance. The worker came to discuss with him, not only he denied it, but rebutted with various excuses. He offended some people due to his job, and he was conspicuous during the movement, someone gave him the crime of a “spy” based on his name”.

Carpenter Sun has been a carpenter all his life, but has had experiences beyond a carpenter. I am his only son, also his only listener.

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