In her art, SIFU SUN is a self-described vessel for her ancestors to work through. Her deeply spiritual practices present themselves in many forms – music, visual art, performance art – and on Saturday, August 14, she brings a performance exploring the nature of death to Logan Circle Park.
SUN is the final artist to participate in Transformer’s summer-long E18: Performance Art, the 18th year of their Exercises for Emerging Artists program. The program serves as an annual mentorship opportunity and peer critique for emerging artists from the DMV. Each year, Exercises for Emerging Artists feature a different artistic discipline, with this year’s highlighting performance art. At 8 p.m. on Saturday, SUN’s performance begins in Logan Circle Park and moves into the Transformer gallery. After the performance, SUN’s art will be available to view at Transformer until Wednesday, August 18.
Titled “Ghost in the Shell,” SUN’s performance explores the spirit’s journey to death and is inspired by a Micronesian death tradition. Micronesia includes several islands in the Pacific Ocean above Australia and Polynesia. In this tradition, the spirit undergoes trial-like situations where it honors the connections with family, friends, material possessions and the world around it as it leaves the world of the living. While the spirit faces its trials, the family honors and prays for its peaceful journey to its final destination.
“It just resonated with me,” SUN says. “It made more sense than what I was finding about different American experiences of spiritual passage.”
At the center of SUN’s work is intention. SUN’s creative practice is intended to honor the physical plane of the planet and the spiritual plane of her ancestors, as well as herself, in what she describes as a “holy trinity.” Her intentions give her work direction and meaning.
“Every project I do is to honor my ancestors and my spirits that protect me and guide me. I try to meditate a lot on what everything means to me. It is hard to get everything into real words, real verbal spaces that others can understand.”
“Ghost in the Shell” honors the physical plane of the planet by using a material that SUN describes as plaguing our planet. In this performance, as well as other projects, SUN uses recycled plastic. In “Ghost in the Shell,” plastic appears in SUN’s outfit and the tethers symbolizing the spirit’s bind to the world of the living.
SUN explains using plastic is in part an attempt to remove some from her community. After moving to Baltimore, SUN noticed an abundance of plastic and other trash. She saw a similar trend in primarily Black neighborhoods in Northwest D.C. when she lived in the District. One day, SUN went to the post office in her neighborhood seeking out plastic for her various projects, and although she didn’t expect them to have very much, she left with two heaping bundles.
“At the time, I didn’t have a car, so I was just walking down the street with these massive boulders of plastic that fortunately were not heavy,” SUN recalls.
SUN’s other projects using plastic include melting it into sheets mimicking paper to paint on and braiding it into huts that could be used as temporary shelters. As a Black American, braiding is an important part of SUN’s culture, and she realized it is also an easy and versatile method to upcycle plastic. She also experimented with sewing and knitting with plastic to further create textile pieces.
For this Saturday, SUN invites her audience to come to her performance ready to honor death.
“Enter it as you would going into the finest church or mausoleum,” SUN says. “A space that you can experience your grief with a sense of relief and pride.”
In honoring death, SUN hopes her performance will help audiences realize death is not the end of all things.
“When a plant dies, you can use the plant as nutrients for the next plant. In tarot, when you receive the death card, it’s not an end-all. Something has to end for something to begin.”