Katie Tobin

Can Sun’s Playful yet Profound Sculptural Universe

Bruises at Mandy Zhang Art, 12 April – 24 May 2024.
Your work is described as focusing on the absurdity of the world and the relationship between people by recontextualizing everyday objects into playful sculptures. Could you talk about what initially inspired you to explore this theme in your work and how you go about balancing each of these elements?

The driving force of my creativity originated from my childhood, which was filled with arguments and eventually led to the complete disintegration of my family. The extreme repression during my childhood was very painful for me. In some sense, not being seen is equivalent to not exist; my parents’ ignorance made me hope to recapture the world’s attention through my work. In my creations, if tragedy must be expressed in a manner of strength rather than tears, then the best way is through humour. From this kind of humour, I hope the audience can experience both laughter and tears simultaneously.

Can Sun, Floating Candles I, (2024) Candles, mechanical balance scales, electric motor. 26 x 32cm (without candles).

You’ve mentioned drawing inspiration from the likes of Mauricio Alejo and Erwin Wurm. I’m interested to know how these artists have shaped your own practice.

Erwin Wurm was the first to introduce the concept of “one minute sculpture,” challenging the traditional notion that sculptures must be eternal objects. According to him, if an object or even a person can maintain a fixed form for a short period of time, it can also be considered a sculpture. While Mauricio Alejo, with his numerous ingenious ideas, showed people the power of humour in his works. When the audience’s logical expectations are unmet in the creativity, it is not surprising to be profoundly affected. Although I am still exploring, I hope my works, based on the foundation of instant sculpture and humour, can reflect more on the meaning or metaphor behind the daily items, and encourage the audience to relate it to their own life experiences.

Your practice involves challenging traditional notions of sculpture and photography. What’s it like navigating between these mediums, and what do you feel each medium adds to the overall narrative of your work?

If sculptures cannot exist permanently—in fact, my fruit sculptures last only a few hours, some even less—I must document them through photography. The documentation of performance art through photography has a long tradition in the history of art. For instance, in 1997, Francis Alÿs pushed a huge block of ice until it completely melted in his work *Sometimes doing something leads to nothing*. Such art can only be disseminated and preserved through photography or video. Indeed, besides instant sculptures, I am also creating short video work that lean more towards performance art, which typically requires camera documentation. However, beyond this, the combination of the two mediums still presents many other interesting aspects worthy of exploration. Most notably, photography can immortalise the critical state of objects. For example, a photograph of a balloon on the verge of bursting makes the viewer feel at any moment that the balloon will explode in the next second.

Can Sun, Star Scar (2023) Photograph, Giclee Print on Bainbridge Paper Edition 4+1AP. 16 x 20 cm, Frame: 40 x 50 cm.

The juxtaposition of irreconcilable elements in your work, such as soft and sharp, cold and warm, flesh and metal, creates a really interesting paradox to observe. Could you talk a little about how you go about conceiving these kinds of shots?

Incorporating dramatic conflicts into my work is both the greatest joy and the biggest challenge in my creative process. It can’t be too simple, as that would fail to evoke the audience’s emotional resonance. Nor should it be too complex; in the age of the internet, with an infinite stream of information, each piece can occupy only a pitifully short amount of time in the viewer’s life, often just a second or two. This requires that the work withstands both an initial glance and deeper examination and scrutiny. Based on this fundamental logic, I consider the characteristics of the objects I work with to craft my pieces, aiming to direct the visual conflicts towards universal conflicts and dramas of human life.

Can Sun, Life Error I (2024) Synthetic crystal, oil paint 20 x 21 x 22 cm.

Going back to this idea of juxtaposition – how do you navigate the balance between cruelty and playfulness in your compositions?

Perhaps some people prefer works that are purely joyful or purely tragic, but I am more drawn to placing my work between tragedy and comedy. Or to put it another way, all humour has a tragic core. This core is closer to the truth of life and the world. When complex relationships and identities are stripped away, we all face a kind of meaninglessness and solitude, what I would call a sense of absurdity. I hope my works, whether they are playful or cruel, can more or less point towards the ultimate proposition — absurdity.
Can Sun (b.1992) is a Chinese contemporary artist who works on instant sculptures of daily objects and currently lives in London and Taipei. He received a master’s degree in political science from Shanghai Normal University in 2019 and a master’s degree in photography from the Royal College of Art in 2022. Can’s works are mainly concerned with the absurdity of the world and the relationship between people. His works have been exhibited in China and the UK and published by magazines in the UK, China, Spain, Mexico and other countries.

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