White Rabbit Collection News

Launching The Ship of Time at the NGV

Installing large artworks is always complicated, time-consuming and fraught with difficulty – much more so when a huge work needs to be trucked to a different city and constructed in situ from delicate bamboo poles, pieces of knotted string and thousands of sheets of xuan paper! Sending Zhu Jinshi’s The Ship of Time to feature in ‘A Fairy Tale in Red Times: Works from the White Rabbit Collection’ at Melbourne's NGV was always going to be an arduous labour of love: long before the work was shipped from Sydney to Melbourne there were many conversations back and forth between the artist’s studio in Beijing and the White Rabbit Collection team in Sydney.

Zhu Jingang teaches the White Rabbit team how the string must be tied

Zhu Jingang teaches the White Rabbit team how the string must be tied

Zhu 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!. Jinshi 'The Ship of Time' White Rabbit Collection, NGV

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

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.

Zhu The arduous process of preparing the xuan paper before it can be folded over the bamboo poles

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

Carefully folding and crumpling sheets of xuan paper

Stacks of beautiful xuan paper ready to be laid over the bamboo poles

Stacks of beautiful xuan paper ready to be laid over the bamboo poles

The 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

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!

Thousands of sheets of xuan paper make up The Ship of Time - but who's counting!

Zhu Zhu Jingang, Ship of Time, NGV

Almost there!

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

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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