According to a study by Microsoft, the average adult human now only has an attention span of eight seconds, a sharp decrease from 12 seconds in the year 2000. It’s not a stretch to predict that, as technology continues to advance, our attention will become even more divided as we swipe from one feed to the next in search of “something new.” Within this global stream of information overload, Chongqing-based artist Sun Keqin swims against the current to ask: “If you had only seven seconds of memory like a fish, would it be a blessing or a curse?”
微软的一项研究表明，如今成年人的平均注意力时长只有 8 秒，与 2000 年的 12 秒相比明显下降。可以预见，在科技的持续发展之下，人们的浏览时间也更碎片化，倾向用手指唰唰地划过一条条内容去获取信息。面对全球信息过载的现况，重庆艺术家孙可卿选择反其道而行：“如果你只有七秒记忆，这是天赋还是诅咒？”
Although this open-ended question seems universal in nature, Sun’s ongoing multimedia project Seven Seconds of Memory, began as all great art does—from personal experience. “The works in this exhibition begin with my own memories,” Sun Keqin states, “and records my sorrow and joy, as well as my concern and thinking about the emotional memory between people now.”
Through a combination of photography, painting, and even X-Ray scans, Sun creates a memory book of madness, filled with torn pages, scribbled notes, and loads of dead fish. “My studio smelled for weeks!” Sun recounts.
虽然这个开放式问题看上去很普遍，但是和很多出色的艺术作品一样，Sun 正在创作的多媒体项目《七秒记忆》(Seven Seconds of Memory) 同样源自于自己的个人经历。“这次展览的作品正是从我的记忆中出发，记录着我的悲欢离合，以及对当下人与人之间情感记忆的关注与思考。”通过一系列的摄影作品、绘画以及 X 射线扫描图，孙可卿以拼贴画的形式，组成一本狂乱的记忆之书，其中充斥着撕裂的页面、手写字条、旧照片以及死鱼图像。回忆起当初创作时的情形，孙可卿说：“我的工作室臭了好几天！”
But within the chaos of his work, there’s a clarity that can only occur when viewing one’s past from a present perspective, one that allows life’s many mismatched melodies, motifs, and confusing coincidences to be properly placed within a harmonious arrangement.
Sun’s painstaking devotion to the older, traditional methods of analog film pays homage to photography’s early days. “In the past, curtains were placed behind the individual who was getting their photo taken,” Sun notes. “I did the same for my fish shoots, mainly to emphasize the feeling of a memory.” Similarly, the scratches and graininess of the pictures represent the tearing and fragmentation of memory, while the rust and computer glitches reveal the deterioration of our objective recollection over time.
Born the son of a painter, Sun always knew he wanted to be an artist and that there were high expectations for him. However, now in his forties, it certainly took him a long time to get there, and despite his youthful appearance and optimistic demeanor, his past is full of heartbreak and failure.
In fact, he almost never made it at all. “I was rejected from the high school run by the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, twice” Sun laughs, “which made my father very disappointed, maybe he thought I was not so talented.” After getting in and graduating, Sun faced another crippling setback: he was denied entry to the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts… four times.
However, Sun was determined, and for five long years, he patiently endured mounting pressure to give up his dreams as he continuously honed his skills without the support of his family. “Before I passed the exam, my relationship with my father was very tense, and the relationship between my father and my mother was also very tense. They were going to divorce” Sun says. “My father totally abandoned me; he thought I was never going to be an artist, and that I would also fail my whole life.”
When asked if he ever became discouraged, Sun humbly replies, “Never, I’m very patient and good at waiting.” Now, as a professor of photography at his alma mater, Sun tries to impart this same attitude on his students. “I always tell my students that it takes a really short time to press the button, but a long time waiting for the right moment to show up. If you look back, for normal people five years may seem like a really long time, but if you really believe in something, especially your art, patience is a very important lesson you have to learn.”
With exhibitions across China, the US, Germany, and Australia, Sun ’s patience has finally paid off, but tragically, too late for his father to witness. “The year I gained entry to university was the year my father found out that he had lymphatic cancer,” he recalls. “Although I thought my paintings were very bad at the time, my father still put it on the wall of his ward, and said proudly, “Look! It is my son’s painting! He is a student of the Sichuan Fine Art Institute now!” The day after his final examination, Sun’s father passed away.
This forced forgetfulness of pain can be a bittersweet companion in our lives, occasionally rising from the depths of our memories. Although they may disappear altogether over time, they still take their toll. Sun makes sure to pay particularly close attention to this relationship in his work. “When we want to forget a person, we may tear up his photos. My creation is based on this habitual thinking model of people, which causes viewers to re-select and examine the evasive content in their inner memory, rewriting them.”
Sun also asks, in an era where everything in our lives is recorded, wrapped, commodified, edited, and then dangled like fish food on social media for others to consume, what value do our private memories hold? Do our fragmented recollections of the past, torn from the personal pages of our history and stitched into our subconscious, actually inform who we are? Or is the present construction of us, who we choose to show the world, really all that matters?
When asked if Sun would prefer to have the attention span of a fish, he responds: “In reality, I am actually willing to become a fish with only seven seconds of memory, because then I can forget some painful things. But the natural condition of human memory has to let us not forget. Therefore, I think I can choose to remember those memories with a temperature, and I think that the temperature of this memory is constantly pushing me to move forward. I feel that at the end of my life, when I think back to all the joy, pain, or sorrow of my life, I can prove that I am a complete person because I think that memory is an important part of what makes us human.”