The Hirayama Conservation Studio
The Hirayama Conservation Studio is the only one of its kind in a European museum and is run by a Chinese painting conservator—Jinxian Qiu. Before she came to London, Miss Qiu received training as an apprentice and worked in the Shanghai Museum for over fifteen years. Today we are lucky enough to see the traditional mounting techniques operated by Miss Qiu.
The painting to be mounted was created by a modern Chinese painter—Leilei Qu. This painting is in good condition and will be mounted for exhibition. Before we get there, this painting has already been framed with silk paper (silk under Xuan paper) and is waiting for the backing process. The backing process has three major tasks. The first task is to mount another piece of silk paper on top of the painting with framed edges. When doing this, Miss Qiu brushed layers of thin paste onto the silk paper. The key point is that all paste should be distributed evenly and should wait for few minutes for them to penetrating. And after this, the silk paper has been applied to the verso of the top edge. On this step, one important thing is to apply some thick paste on the edges. This is because the edges react different from the main area due to the difficulty of penetrating the silk paper in the edges. Besides, when using the brush to stacked them together, the moving direction of the brush should be vertical to the bottom edge rather than horizontal, which may change the size of the paper.
The second task is to back the framed painting by using Xuan paper. Because Xuan paper is easier to be stacked onto the verso, the paste for this process is much thinner than the previous one. The size of this backing paper should be larger than the object at least one inch on both right and left sides. Before the paste has been brushed onto the paper, Miss Qiu humidified the Xuan paper by spraying water onto it. And then brush the thin paste onto the paper, the pasting process should be carried out several times and make sure that paste is evenly and fully distributed. If this process is not perfect, then the mounting work will fail. After the paste penetrates the paper, roll dry paper beneath it and allow it to get a little bit drier. And again, put some thick paste on the edges. The object has been humidified by spraying water onto it and by swabbing the edges with wet Xuan paper. Next, brushing the Xuan paper onto the object, which is the most tricky and difficult process. When doing this, the object should be made flat first and then apply the Xuan paper. After that, Miss Qiu apply some strips of Xuan paper onto the extra edges and then humidify the whole object and brush it again, which can help the backing stick to the object firmly. In this process, pouncing on those connected areas by using a bristle brush is quite important since it gives mechanical forces to the adhesion. After all these have been done, the mounted object has been laid down on the top of a huge mat to get a little bit drier. And the final process is adhering the object to the wooden wall so that it can get dry flatly.
This traditional Chinese mounting technique is totally different to the western lining techniques. For Chinese mounting, it is primarily a wet process. In many ways, it reminds me of the role of water in paper conservation, where water often the most useful tool for reducing discoloration and deterioration products, removing backing layers. During this mounting process, what impresses me most is that in such a difficult process, the huge Xuan paper expands just like a piece of flexible fabric under the control of Miss Qiu! All of us are focusing on this process with anxiety, while Miss Qiu carrys it out very elegantly and without extra difficults. How many year of practices should be done can she achieve such a confidence! Anyway, thanks Joanna and Miss Qiu for offering us such a wonderful mounting show! A short film on this has been added on the BM YouTube channel in November.