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Art Fund Student Opportunities Blog: Installing ‘Glass Ships in Bottles by Ayako Tani’

By Rhian Lloyd, Art Fund Student Opportunity placement and Exhibition and Engagement Assistant. Rhian is a 4th year Communication Design student at Glasgow Schools of Art. 

Rhian next to the vintage ships in glass bottles fleet, collected by artist and researcher Dr Ayako Tani
Rhian stands next to the vintage ships in glass bottles fleet, collected by artist and researcher Dr Ayako Tani

Early September saw the installation of Dr Ayako Tani’s exhibition Glass Ships in Bottles by Ayako Tani at the Scottish Maritime Museum in Irvine. As one of three work placement Exhibition and Engagement Assistants, I was lucky enough to observe and assist in the process of the exhibition coming together.

Though I have always been interested in exhibitions, my previous hands-on experience with them was limited to those I had worked on with friends and peers. Assembling an exhibition in a national museum was a very different experience, and one which taught me a lot.

The first stage was to remove the previous exhibition – we were mostly involved with removing the interpretation panels from the walls and objects from the cases. These then had to be packaged in tissue and cotton tape to prepare them for storage and eventual display in a different location.

A few days later we returned to the gallery space, which had been painted. The cases were moved and cleaned, and television monitors installed on the walls. There were so many things to learn already – from the techniques used to ensure things are hung straight to how to correctly pack and label an object. I was quickly learning that very little to do with installing exhibitions was arbitrary.

Mhairi cleans the exhibiiton display cases

The first case we installed was showcasing glass scientific instruments, as well as Pig in a Pig in a Pig, which we were very taken by. They were all incredibly beautiful as objects and I was utterly terrified of breaking them!

glass pig in a pig in a pig
Fan favourite – Pig in a Pig in a Pig


It was exciting when Dr Tani arrived with her fleet of glass ships in bottles, and we began to lay them out on tables in the space. Under the guidance of Ayako, Nicola, the Exhibitions and Events Officer and James, the Assistant Curator, I started to feel more confident unpackaging the glass ships and placing them down. Ayako selected the objects for the first case but allowed Mhairi, Nicole and me to curate some of them – a big responsibility! We took it in turns arranging the objects and standing in front of the case to see how they looked. I really liked how collaborative this experience was and it was very rewarding to see the case come together – someone would change something small and the whole arrangement would seem as though it had been pulled together.

Glassblowing demonstration and audience
Glassblowing Demonstration at Saturday’s Exhibition Launch Day.


The Schools and Public Exhibition Launch Days were a great success, with glass blowing demonstrations, tours of the exhibition by Dr Tani and a talk and workshop by Professor Jamie Toney, founder of the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Sustainable Solutions, to celebrate the launch of the Ocean Posters Against Plastic Pollution exhibition. I was greeting visitors and letting them know about the various events, but I was also pleased to have a chance to see the strange and magical process of glassblowing, demonstrated by Ian Pearson and Robert McLeod from the British Society of Scientific Glass Blowers.

The week of the exhibition installation was a highly rewarding and fascinating one. I think all of the Art Fund Student Opportunities work placements would agree that we learned a great deal about the process, as well as about Dr Tani’s work and scientific glassblowing. Personally, I feel that going forward I will be able to build on the knowledge and skills I have acquired from this experience, and I look forward to learning more about the process of building and launching exhibitions.

Cover photograph by Jo Howell

Art Fund Student Opportunity placements Rhian, Nicole and Mhairi

Art Fund Student Opportunities harness the talent of university students to help realise projects at museums and galleries. These paid placements give students hands on experience and training. 

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