A bat cave full of art, not gadgets

A bat cave full of art, not gadgets

Mainland artist Sun Xun's latest artwork gives the bat cave a whole new meaning

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No Bat Mobile in sight as Sun Xun works on his mural.
Photo: Asia Society Hong Kong

Bats have a bad reputation. They fly at night, look scary and some of them might be vampires in disguise. 

But Asia Society Hong Kong is here to defend bats. Their new exhibition, Bat Cave: Treasures of the Day and Creatures of the Night, features both traditional and modern art that celebrates these misunderstood winged animals. 

The exhibition turned the usually bright and cheerful Chantal Miller Gallery at Asia Society into a dark - and kind of spooky - bat cave. Each section of the gallery features art with a different theme, but they all have one thing in common: everything is covered in bats. 

Using bats in art was very popular during the Qing and Ming dynasties. In many Chinese dialects, the word "bat" sounds like the word for "blessings", and so a picture of a bat became a symbol of good fortune. A lot of traditional Chinese art uses this type of visual joke to tell a story or send a message.

There are more than 70 pieces on display. Each one shows bats in a different way. From cute, fat little bats painted on porcelain, to bats hidden in the detailed embroidery on a robe, bats are everywhere. And searching for the bats in each piece of art is part of the fun. 

But step into the brightly lit side space of the gallery, and you won't have to search to find the bats at all. The entire wall has been painted by mainland artist Sun Xun as a mural dedicated to bats.

Young Post spoke to Sun as he was finishing his mural. The space was filled with cans of paints and brushes. It was the last day of painting, so most of the mural was done, but Sun was standing high up on a ladder painting the last bats on the far end of the wall. He painted carefully but quickly.

Sun is known for his digital artwork, and you can see some of his animations on a television screen mounted on the wall. 

But this time, he was inspired by China's traditional art. And he only had four days to do it. He knew his mural would have to go along with the antiques in the rest of the gallery.

"I think this exhibition has more traditional art," he says.

"So, I had to set up a new style to link the contemporary and traditional art."

This bridge is clear when you look at his mural. There are rocks and mountains that look just like old ink paintings. But the swirling gold clouds look newer. And of course there are all the bats, too. 

"The bat is not a bat," Sun laughs, looking at all the flying figures he painted. "It's from my brain and also my memory." 

And Sun combined his memory of bats with what he knew about traditional styles for painting other animals. 

"I learned the dragon style from older drawings," he says. "So I put them together. I used the dragon style to draw the bats."

Sun doesn't even know how many bats are on the wall - he lost count. "The wall decides, not me," he says, explaining that he didn't do any planning before starting to paint. "I'm a tool."

Sun's new style also borrows the mindset of traditional art. "This style of art isn't like Western art with lots of details," he says. "It's more emotional, very quick. You think of nothing when you do it." 

He points to an area on the wall behind him with some rocks and trees. You can tell it was painted quickly, because there are drips of paint coming down from the lines. 

This is because it's more about what feels right at the time. Because the shapes aren't detailed, adding a few strokes can change a tree into a mountain, for example. "The same part, you can change it to anything," Sun explains.

For Sun, the Bat Cave exhibition is about more than just bats and antiques. "I don't think this exhibition is only about old art, or only about dead art," he says. "Because I'm here." He sees it as a chance for people to see how Chinese culture and history continues to influence current art. 

It's about looking at today, and remembering what came before it, Sun says. "Culture still lives and still develops." 

Bat Cave is free for students and open until January 3.

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