Waterscapes: Johannean Journeys

Gu Xiong
Artist Statement:   Professor Gu Xiong, SJC Faculty Fellow

Waterscapes: Johannean Journeys
1,000 hand made white archive paper boats
Permanent Collection of St. John’s College, University of British Columbia

As children we loved to fold paper boats and float them down the stream. We believed that they carried our hopes for the future, for going out into the world, into unknown places. This work explores the idea of migrations, including my own from China to Canada, by imaginatively bringing the Yangtze and Fraser rivers together. My home city of Chongqing is on the banks of the Yangtze while the Fraser flows past Vancouver, my “new” home since 1990. Both rivers are formed by smaller rivers joining together as they flow through different geographies and locales. From opposite directions, they merge and meet in the Pacific Ocean.

In my experience, rivers signify encounters with different peoples and cultures. For me, there were no bridges to help me cross these rivers: you just have to jump in and swim a long distance in order to experience another culture by being open to benefiting from differences. There is inevitably conflict in this process. I have asked myself, how can I bring the two rivers in my life together? The answer: I have to become like a river myself—a river of migration, a river of transcultural identities, a river of change and uncertainty—in order to shape these forces into a new global space.

At St. John’s College, “Waterscapes” is inspired by the stories of Johannean journeys from all over the world. The Founders of the College are alumni of St. John’s University of Shanghai, the largest metropolis on the Yangtze. Every year, new residents come to UBC from all over the world. Like the boats, each of their stories is uniquely individual, but they come together to form a thick palimpsest of histories, memories, and material traces of migration and transformation. Migration and globalization have brought the invisible and the visible together, creating new spaces in which life journeys intertwine and new paths on which to build our present and future.

 Water, people, and time flow on. They do not return to their original points but show it is possible for life itself to flow on.

Gu Xiong

The artist gratefully acknowledges the generous support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada as well as his research team: Chris Lee, Jennifer Chun and April Liu. Special thanks to the principal of St. John’s College Principal, Henry Yu, the staff, and the many student volunteers who helped make this work possible for the public.


Paper boats with messages inside.

交融的河流: 约翰人之旅

艺术家: 顾雄


在我的经历中,这些河流象征着与不同民族和文化的相遇。对我来说,并没有一座可以帮我越过这些河流的桥梁:你不得不跳入水中,并且游上很长很长的一段距离后,才能在接受差异中的益处里体验另一种文化,这是必不可少的过程。我曾问我自己,如何才能将我生命中的两条河流融合在一起?答案是:我必须自己变为一条河流—— 一条迁移的河流,一条跨文化身份的河流,一条充满变换与不确定的河流——才可能将这些力量转换并组构成全球化中的全新空间。