Cai Gao Qiang is an international artist who was born China who now lives in the USA where his art draws in influences from eastern philosophy and today’s social issues to create some of the most striking works in the art world.
Cai has always featured gunpowder in much of his art, so when the chance to work again with his favourite medium, the race was on.
In early Spring 2019, he visited the site of one of the biggest volcanic eruptions to ever take place in Europe; Pompeii. The eruption, which is still detailed as one of the most catastrophic of all time, took place on 24th August in the year 79AD, spewing molten rock, clouds of stones, ash, and gases into the air, releasing thermal energy equivalent to 100,000 times that contained within the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Excavation of the site
The site of the art installation was the amphitheatre of Pompeii entitled ‘Explosion Studio’ and the event started out with small explosive bursts which filled the cold air of the amphitheatre with clouds of grey/pink smoke as the skies were once again alight but at least this time it was with gunpowder.
This piece is a part of Cai’s ‘An Individual’s Journey Through Western Art History’ features a 108-foot piece of canvas which is surrounded by towering reproduction statues of the Gods including Hercules and Venus. He used explosives and multi-hued gunpowder which he then lit, leaving the area engulfed in ash and smoke. The reason for choosing the amphitheatre is also to show the rich former history of the place, particularly in relation to the gladiatorial and venationes (animal hunts).
I am sure that if you are a regular reader of our fabulous blog (I know, it’s my humility that holds me back!), you will be aware of the artist Cai Guo-Qiang (pronounced Tsai) who specialises in using gunpowder in his art and today he is internationally acknowledged as one of the most remarkable artists of our time.
Cai predominantly lives and works at his studio in New York and spends a great deal of time at the gym, which he believes keeps him young and his mind and body in sync. The fact of the matter is, he is really fit and for 60 years old, not looking too shabby.
Today, Cai produces giant pieces of work, using his preferred medium; gunpowder – some of which are more than 7 metres long Cai let China when he was 29 to move to Japan where he started experimenting with gunpowder.
Today, he places layers of gunpowder sprinkled over a canvas and stencils which were then linked with pyrotechnic fuse (e.g. quick-match) which is taped into place before being transported to a special pyro lab close by where before being lit, huge sheets of cardboard are placed over the canvas to cut down on airflow – reducing the chance of fire/scorching of the canvas.
Many of his older artworks were predominantly black and white and it was only following the death of his much-beloved father and grandmother which prompted the addition of colour.
In 2014, he courted controversy with his ‘One Night Stand’ project in Paris for La Nuit Blanche which was a whole night event where studios, galleria and museums opened all through the night and Cai had been tasked with creating something special. The first part of the One Night Stand was 12 minutes of music and stunning fireworks (why 12 minutes? This is said to be the average time a Frenchman makes love for – yeah right matey!!) before 50 red tents were very subtly lit from the inside whilst couples got ‘jiggy with it’ inside – all very subtle and erotic and then a beautiful firework finale.
More recently, a documentary has been created for Netflix called ‘Skyladder’ which was about the creation and successful realisation of a 20-year long ambition to connect the heavens and earth
together with a ladder. The ladder was created by using double-stranded wire coated in black powder and suspended from a hot air balloon before being lit in darkness leaving what looked like a
ladder to heaven.
The video of the event was leaked and within 2-days, 30 million had viewed it online and yet on the day of the successful realisation of his ambition, only a couple of hundred people were there from the little fishing village. Sadly, Cai’s grandmother who had been fit and well until she was 98 and had a fall and she was never quite the same. She was fortunate to be able to celebrate her 100th birthday and see Cai’s work come to fruition (especially as she was his greatest fan) thanks to modern technology and facetime, she got to see it as it happened which was fortunate as she passed just one month later.
In 2017, he was commissioned to create an art installation which would mark the 7 th anniversary of the creation of the world’s first nuclear reactor by physicist Enrico Fermi. 75 years after achieving the iconic mushroom cloud Cai brought in the assistance expertise of one of the oldest firework families worldwide; Fireworks by Grucci, who have been entertaining the masses with fireworks since the middle of the 19th century. The result was beautiful.
This was not, of course, the first artwork commemorating the nuclear age as there is a 12-foot bronze sculpture created by Yorkshire’s own artist and sculptor Henry Moore.
Given Cai’s constant and ongoing inspiration and influences, whether commissioned or his own imagination running riot once again, we will, of course, keep you up to date with the beauty and
thought-provoking work of the world’s greatest famous Gunpowder King.
Over 40,000 rockets blasting off from the wall of the Geffen Contemporary.
On Saturday April 7, artist Cai Guo-Qiang marked the opening of his exhibition with Mystery Circle: Explosion Event for The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; a site-specific work created for MOCA. This edit was made to be viewed in our galleries as part of Cai Guo-Qiang's installation.
Director: Felipe Lima
Producers: Lana Kim, Jett Steiger, Bret Nicely
Cinematographer: Larkin Donley
Cai Guo-Qiang is a Chinese contemporary artist featured in a number of past blogs. From a very early age, Cai was fascinated with fireworks and explosions and they are intrinsic to the majority of his art work.
Brought up in China, where fireworks are part of daily life and most certainly feature in almost all religious and secular holidays, it was no surprise that his preferred medium is black powder and its explosive power, bringing his art to the masses.
Cai uses all aspects of his traditional Chinese culture including their medicine, flowers and animals and brings this ethos to his work using some more traditional mediums to create art which shows his life and more importantly, stresses the path that we are taking as a race which is damaging the earth to such a degree that the so-called ‘natural disasters’ are in fact a result of our own actions.
In his early career, he studied the finer aspects of stage/set design, broadening his perspective. Over the years he has continued to push the boundaries of modern art.
In 1990, he started ‘Projects for Extra Terrestrials’ where he built a shanty, like the one in Tiananmen Square, loaded it with gunpowder and lit the fuse. The resultant explosion, using large fireworks, created amazing trails across the skies. It lasted around 9 seconds and was reportedly visible from space.
One of his other ‘claims to fame’ was being commissioned by the Chinese Government to create the opening and closing displays for the Beijing Olympics. I am sure that even now, 7 years on, there is still chatter in the firework fraternity about the ‘footprints’ debacle but you have to tip your hat to him, they were absolutely spectacular.
A recent creation formed part of his one man exhibition: The Ninth Wave, which represents mans responsibility for causing the current environmental and ecological issues like the 16,000 dead pigs found last year floating in the Huangpu River or the thick smog which constantly hangs over most of the major cities in China. Keeping his fondness for daytime fireworks; including all black, white and pastel coloured fireworks, his latest work ‘Chapter One of Elegy Firework’ (elegy – sad or mournful song or poem – like a lament) features a huge jetty full of fireworks – an impressive sight, whether you ‘get it’ or not!
Given his undisputed love affair with black powder, we are sure his imagination knows no bounds and look forward to seeing his future work.