Immersing himself in the language of conceptual and material art from the late 1980s onwards, the self-trained artist Zhu Jinshi has produced a wide range of installation works using diverse materials such as bamboo, stone, flour, and iron slabs, as well as readymades including teapots, soy sauce bottles, stretcher frames, Buddha statues, and bicycles.
Of these projects, Zhu’s spectacular three-dimensional works, featuring thousands of individually crumpled sheets of “rice paper” or xuan paper, stand out as some of his most successful and well-known works.
Expansive yet delicate, Wave of Materials is composed of xuan paper, a traditional material that has been used by Chinese painters and calligraphers for over a millennium. Zhu sources these sheets of custom-made paper from a rural Chinese paper mill that uses traditional methods to transform elm bark, rice, or bamboo into soft yet textured sheets of xuan paper. To install Wave of Materials each time it is exhibited, Zhu employs a large team to carefully crumple, flatten, and then hang the sheets from the ceiling. In the configuration on view in this exhibition, thousands of these sheets encase or immerse the viewer in a sea of paper intended to provide a meditative encounter. Here, Zhu negates the original function of xuan paper; it can no longer be used as a surface for painting and instead becomes a material in itself.
“Every piece of paper has to go through a repeated process [of crumpling]. It can’t be [crumpled] too hard, or too softly, and [the crumpled paper] can’t be [un-crumpled] with too much force.”—Zhu Jinshi 1
Interview with Zhu Jinshi, July 16, 2019, conducted by Nancy P. Lin, translated by Greg Young.
Xuan paper, cotton thread, bamboo, and stones
Gift of Zhu Jinshi and Pearl Lam Gallery in honor of Wu Hung, jointly acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago