This installation for visualising Qi is an attempt to re-imagine and reconstruct an ancient Chinese technology by professionals from different disciplines. The original Chinese name translates as ‘Waiting for Qi‘. The English translation “Qimometer” by Jay Brown highlights the complexities and limitations when exploring a system for interpreting life, that in the process of globalisation, has drawn any number of projections, from post-industrial religiosity (Raphael Lioger, 2009 quoted in Chenault, M. (2016) The Culture of Qi; books & ideas.net) to the esoteric. The English name makes no claims but draws in all humility attention to the measuring function of the installation.
Not so dissimilar from modern soil thermometers, the purpose of the installation is to identify the most suitable time for planting seeds. But where the latter relies on a straightforward relationship between temperature and the soil’s capacity to germinate seeds, the Qimometer uses different media: the soil shows its readiness for germinating seeds by moving air with enough power to lift a layer of very fine ash off the ground and blow it upward through the dark narrow tunnel of a bamboo pipe several centimeters high. It announces the readiness of the soil to germinate seeds with an inaudible sigh, a scream, a tune, a song, a deep breath. One or the other? Or all at the same time? In any case, it makes visible temporal differences of a floating world.
What you need to make a Qimometer
Building the Qimometer
Servicing the inner workings of the Qimometer
Podcast: Zhuming, He Jixing and Petra discuss their understandings of the description of this ancient technology.
Recording of the surveillance camera that monitors developments inside the installation.
What you need to make a Qimometer:
The ability to remain excited at the thought of ash puffing at an incalculable moment out of a bamboo pipe stuck in the ground
Vague instructions that leave a lot to the imagination (see below)
An enthusiastic core team consisting of two artists of which one has local knowhow, a scientist and an architect.
A site identified by a local Feng Shui Master
Lots of time
Lots of help
Local Building Materials, in Jixiang Village these were:
a) 250 yuan worth of Mud Bricks, left over from the building of someone’s house
b) quartered, sun-dried valley bamboo;
c) freshly harvested mountain bamboo;
d) friends to help you locate, gather, transport and weave the bamboo
e) reeds and friends available in late autumn and winter to help you gather it
f) very patient people to harvest the membrane inside the reed stalks
g) a friendly pottery with a kiln
Based on the following guide, architect Wu Shuyin designed the installation.
2. Building the Qimometer
In October 2018 we asked Mu Chongpei, the local Qilin Master, to help us identify the best place for the installation. He chose the spot behind the kitchen next to one of the many vegetable plots Grandma tends. Mu Chongpei explained that from this spot, nothing obstructs the view toward the daily spectacle of the sun rising behind the mountains.
Beginning in October and continuing through January until early February 2019, Shuyin Wu (architect), He Zhiqin, (local weaver of fishnets and baskets), He Jixing (filmmaker), Zhu Ming (scholar) and Petra Johnson (artist) set off on what some of our closest and dearest friends considered an irrational quest.
Qimometer construction No. 1 by Wu Shuyin 2018-10-4
At first I conceived the Qimometer as a place, which humans can also inhabit, but Petra insisted that it is for the earth, not humans. I agree that it is a wonderful idea, to build something just for the earth. What will an instrument for the earth be like? From the conception of the Qimometer until its construction, it took 4 months. Below are the sketches that show the process.
Qimometer construction No.2 by Wu Shuyin 2018-10-6
Local Fengshui master Mr. Mu identified the site for us. The following week layers of bricks are laid with Jixing and Zhuming. We also visited bamboo master, Mr. He, to learn how to slice and weave bamboo. Bamboo near the backyard is cut down for the structure of the Qimometer.
Qimometer construction No.3 by Wu Shuyin 2018-10-19
How to weave the bamboo like a labyrinth and enclose the structure with wind proof material? The overall appearance should look like the haystacks, that can be seen everywhere in Jixiang village.
Qimometer construction No.4 by Wu Shuyin 2018-10-20
The idea is to have a shell made of several layers to make sure that wind cannot enter the structure.
Qimometer construction No.5 by Wu Shuyin 2018-10-27
How to light the Qimometer from outside? Penetrations of light from the three layers of bamboo membranes are sketched and modeled in drawings. The drawings were then put into a box, made by local carpenter Mr. Yang, to let light filter through the three layers.
By January 2019, as we are racing against time to complete the installation, a chilly West Wind rushes around the corner of the nearby building and sorely tests our persistence.
Qimometer construction No.6 by Wu Shuyin 2019-01-06
Arriving in Jixiang Village after two months away. The first thing to do is to visit the bamboo basket weaver Mr. He in the village. Three of us, Duskin, Zhu Ming and I become the bamboo master’s new apprentices. Duskin discovers that Master He uses a different bamboo than the one we have in our backyard. In Mr. He’s backyard, there is a bamboo called Mountain bamboo. It is more suitable for weaving. So we are off for a mountain trip to harvest bamboo in Jixing’s little truck.
Qimometer construction No. 7 by Wu Shuyin 2019-01-07
In order to disguise the Qimometer as a haystack, Petra and I measure the dimensions of haystacks in the village, to get the right proportions.
Qimometer construction No.8 by Wu Shuyin 2019-01-13
To be realistic regarding schedule and labour, I am now considering to make one simple basket with an opening toward the mountain. The basket is big enough so that one can sit inside and look at the distant mountain. Petra asks me to think of the construction in terms of the sun and the clouds looking in rather than anyone looking out. It is a beautiful idea.
We would not have been able to maintain our momentum without the generous help from: Katika Mediani, (animation artist); Jay Brown (founder and host of the Lijiang Studio); Duskin Drum (artist and educator); He Zhenjin, (local basketmaker); Bochay Drum (landscape archaeologist); Ben Torpey (farmer); Xu Zhifeng (architect/artist); He Erge and He Xuemei, who found locations where we could gather suitable mountain bamboo and a group of high school students from the US who helped rain-proof the woven structure with mud and helped build a path to it.
Qimometer construction No.9 by Wu Shuyin 2019-01-26
The last sketches to be drawn, a simple basket, a container for the earth’s energy. We finish the Qimometer before Chinese New Year.
3. Servicing the inner workings of the Qimometer
In the week of Spring Equinox (from 21 March 2019 onwards), we collected our second batch of ash. The ash is made of reed membrane fired at 800 centigrade in a kiln at a pottery in Ciman Village. Zhu Ming crushes the flakes of ash into a powder. Every one of the processes required to get to the ash, reduces volume by a breathtaking degree, at least it is breathtaking if you are the one who gathered the reeds and who peeled the membrane out of the stalks. It takes a minimum of five half days to fill a pot, like the one below. It is a very slow and delicate process. Once ground to a powder the ash is transferred into the bamboo pipe.
4. Podcast: ‘Ideas are eternal constellations. In the process of rescuing them, the elements of such constellations are grasped and phenomena reveal themselves as pointers.’ Walter Benjamin (1925), Der Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels (Play of Mourning), Preface available on https://www.textlog.de/benjamin-idee-konfiguration-ursprung-trauerspiels.html; translation by Howard Eiland (2019) in The Origin of the German Trauerspiel, Harvard University Press.
5. Recordings of the surveillance camera that monitors developments inside the installation.
A visitor! We can watch the interior workings from anywhere and at any time thanks to a camera installed by Xu Zhifeng.