Launching The Ship of Time at the NGV
Zhu Jingang teaches the White Rabbit team how the string must be tiedZhu Jinshi’s brother travelled to Australia to help the White Rabbit crew install the work. An engineer with a down-to-earth manner and a dry, typically Beijing sense of humour, Zhu Jingang arrived in Sydney late one Thursday evening and started work the next day. His first task was to show the team of White Rabbit installers how to tie the special lengths of string that hold the elaborate, tunnel-shaped structure together.
Lots and lots and lots of string!‘All hands on deck’ (Ship of Time…could not resist!) were required to tie pieces of string at precise intervals onto eight stainless steel poles, using clover hitch and half hitch knots. This process took two full days. Once everything was loaded onto a truck, together with all the other works selected for the exhibition, a convoy set off down the Hume Highway. In Melbourne, the White Rabbit staff were joined by the NGV team. Hooks for hanging the sculpture's framework were already in place and work began. Eight people lined up on scaffolding to tie the string and attach the bamboo poles, leaving a space at the bottom of the bamboo tube just large enough to allow visitors to the gallery to walk inside the installation. The final phase, once this skeletal structure was complete, was to attach the sheets of folded paper.
Install of The Ship of Time begins at the NGV
Zhu Jingang instructed the team on how each sheet of xuan paper has to be folded and carefully crumpled. This fire-proof paper (yes, really!) is made from the bark of the blue sandalwood tree, or Qingtan (Pteroceltis tatarinowii for botany nerds) in remote villages in Anhui Province, where it is soaked and laid out on the mountains in a technique used there for at least 1500 years.
The arduous process of preparing the xuan paper before it can be folded over the bamboo poles
Carefully folding and crumpling sheets of xuan paper
Stacks of beautiful xuan paper ready to be laid over the bamboo polesThe most exacting part of the installation process turned out to be this folding and crumpling technique. It has to be done slowly and carefully, in an almost meditative, ‘Zen-like’ manner – rushing this task would result in paper that does not hang straight. First, each sheet of paper is folded in half, scrunched up from each end towards the middle, and then crumpled into a ball and kneaded between both hands. Finally the ball of paper is gently opened and placed in a neat stack ready for hanging over the bamboo poles, evenly folded, to create a delicate, translucent wall.
Adding sheets of xuan paper to the 'skeleton' of The Ship of Time
Thousands of sheets of xuan paper make up The Ship of Time - but who's counting!
The end result of this laborious process? An ethereal, immersive and Zen-like structure that appears to float weightlessly in the gallery space, enthralling visitors to the exhibition. In Daoist philosopher Zhuangzi’s parable ‘The Empty Boat’ these lines tell us to let go of fruitless anxiety:
If you can empty your own boat
Crossing the river of the world,
No one will oppose you,
No one will seek to harm you
Zhu Jinshi agrees. He says The Ship of Time is a symbolic journey that 'blocks out the noise of the world'.
Zhu Jinshi's 'The Ship of Time' seems to float in the NGV , reflected in the stainless-steel surface of Mao Tongqiang's work 'Order' with the heaving ocean of Tang Nannan's video 'Billennium Waves' at the rear.
Words: Luise Guest with Suna Xie
Images: Suna Xie (install process shots) and David Roche (final install view).
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