Sun Xun creates Reconstruction of the Universe for Audemars Piguet

Born in 1980, Sun Xun is among the most esteemed Chinese artists of his generation. His drawings, prints, paintings and moving images, rooted in personal memory and collective history, traverse the boundaries of art; by connecting old and new, handmade and high-tech, Eastern and Western, he creates immersive experiences in which all of the senses are activated

For the 2016 Audemars Piguet Art Commission, Xun has created Reconstruction of the Universe. The piece – to be unveiled at Art Basel Miami this December – is an elaborate time-based artwork consisting of animated films projected on flat and spherical surfaces, utilising both two-dimensional and three-dimensional film technologies. These will be shown alongside original woodcuts and larger-scale reproductions rendered in traditional media and techniques, and presented in an ocean-side bamboo pavilion designed by the artist himself.

Xun committed himself and his team to the arduous task of producing the animations using traditional illustration methods. Notably, this includes a single film, dubbed Time Spy, of over ten minutes long, in which each and every frame – more than 10,000 images in total – is a fully realised woodcut. It's an extraordinary feat of technical precision and complexity.

This film is at the heart of Reconstruction of the Universe – projected on a giant freestanding screen 30 ft in diameter. In addition, a series of animations is shown on spherical screens, each in full 360 degrees. For several months, experts employed by Audemars Piguet worked closely with Xun and his team to develop the spherical projections; five films loop continuously, taking their inspiration from the five elements – metal, wood, fire, water and earth – that structure the universe according to Chinese tradition. Each utilises a different material to symbolise specific elements; for instance, a sequence showing miners at work is made with carbon powder (‘earth’), while ink brings to life rolling sea waves (‘water’).

The metaphysics of time have long been central to Xun’s thinking. While preparing for the commission, he travelled to the village of Le Brassus in Vallée de Joux, Switzerland, where Audemars Piguet is based. ‘Time is a metaphysical dimension of existence, although it is not visible and couldn’t be touched,’ the artist explains. Appropriately, a magician and a watchmaker’s workshop appear in one sequence.

Elsewhere, the astronomical foundations of time and time measurement are symbolised in Xun’s representations of planetary constellations, as well as sequences evoking the elaborate internal mechanisms of clocks and watches. In a subtle reference to the collaboration with Audemars Piguet and the impressions formed on his visit to Le Brassus, the artist has inserted glimpses of buildings that clearly resemble the Founder’s House and the brand’s original workshops.

Every detail of Reconstruction of the Universe is rendered with painstaking precision, with thousands of smaller and larger images woven into a single visual narrative – the entire installation functioning in highly orchestrated, and seemingly effortless, unison.

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'Reconstruction of the Universe'

The bamboo pavilion conceived by Sun Xun to house 'Reconstruction of the Universe' as presented on the Ocean Front for Art Basel Miami Beach 2016

(Image credit: TBC)

'Reconstruction of the Universe'

The collected artworks function in highly orchestrated and effortless unison

(Image credit: TBC)

'Reconstruction of the Universe'

A woodcut from the animated 3D film 'Time Spy' – the work is projected on a huge freestanding screen

(Image credit: TBC)


Reconstruction of the Universe is on view at Art Basel Miami from 1–4 December