Saturday, November 26, 2016

Mythological Time : An animated film by Sun Xun

Sun Xun’s animated film Mythological Time is installed as part of the group show Tales of Our Time, currently on view at the Guggenheim. It is a mesmerizing expression of memory, time and space. Xun, who originally trained as a painter, builds his animations from large-scale paintings in black ink on white paper, and carved woodcuts that create a popped-out three dimensional feel. 
The renderings are sketchy and impressionistic, resembling the style of the early 20th century painters. The whimsical images seem carefully selected to convey underlying symbolic meaning towards a political, historical and cultural context. 

Xun mixes memorable images from his own life, such as the view from a favored childhood fishing hole, and carousel horses, with well-known political images and cultural symbols such as the famous Mao Zedong statue in Shenyang and the totems of the Chinese zodiac.  Enigmatic figures populate the film as well, such as fossils depicted within crystal boxes, with which Xun makes a clever connection to the Chinese coal industry.

Xun does not offer explanations through exposition, but rather lets the scenes flow into one another. Like the scenes, the images move and morph into other forms, giving the animation an unpredictable and interpretable narrative. A layer of black scribbled lines is laid over the scenes behind so that even still scenes have the feeling of constant movement. These images, paired and morphed together, take the mind on a journey through space and time. Like an exquisite corpse, the pairing of opposites provides an opportunity for the mind to make new and unexpected connections.   

The film's ever changing form becomes a metamorphosis that speaks to the way memory can bend our perception, and that this change can be unpredictable, sometimes deceiving, and difficult to interpret. Watching Mythologica Time felt like slipping through the cracks between reality and memory, like a journey through the space in-between, which seems to be the place Xun is most interested in exploring.


  1. I really enjoyed reading your review. I watched this film as well but didn't get that observation and interpretation as much as you did. You not only provide the thorough details of this film but also unfold the secrets of the artist for us. The only suggestion I would say is that maybe you could organize your review and separate them into different paragraphs. I think your content is strong and rich enough. However, it would give us more fluency to read.

  2. I enjoyed how you described the feeling of watching this piece in your review. The complexities with which you talk about this work are wonderful to read, and you brought up a lot of good points regarding the content and the symbolism of certain characters in the animation. I would suggest to maybe describe some of the scenes, what the characters actually do. We get a great sense of the style of the film and how the scenes flow in and out of each other, but maybe describe just exactly how the scenes interact with each other.