Born in 1957 in the Fujian Province of China, Cai Guo-Qiang excels in a variety of artistic media with his signature media gunpowder. He emerged with experimental gunpowder drawings and artistic explosions. The integrated science and art expressed through a process of destruction and creation, reflect Cai’s philosophy of life’s interdependence on conflict and transformation. The ephemeral aspect compares to that of Andy Goldsworthy. Often temporal and site specific with time-based, spatial, layered, interactive, multimedia, and performance aspects.
He recalled as a child hearing the “upsetting yet eerily beautiful blasts of artillery being fired across the straight.” Quanzhou was a center of firecracker manufacture and China heavily shelled a nearby island part of Taiwan. “I was always looking for a visual language that goes beyond the boundary of nations, and so I found gunpowder.”
The inspiration for the series roots translates Cai’s notion in a higher perspective where pure energy replaces earthly conflicts expressed with the fuel of conflict, i.e. gunpowder, becoming the fuel of joy.
Raised with Taoism influences, the concept of yin and yang, or the duality of the universe is predominant in his work. Cai said in an interview with the New York Times “I would go to the temple with my grandmother and mother. That is why I have a lot of curiosity about the unseen force and invisible things. It is like a time tunnel to go through, to go beyond the social system and boundaries of nations to make you free and to escape from them.”
SAMPLE OF SCULPTURAL WORKS
Cry Dragon/Cry Wolf: The Ark of Genghis Khan, 1996 made of a soaring dragonlike raft consisting of 108 inflated sheepskin bags, wooden branches, paddles, rope, three Toyota engines, and photocopies of various magazine covers and article clippings. The piece contrasts the Mongol invasion of Eurasia in the early 13th century when Genghis Khan’s army forded rivers with sheepskin rafts against the Asian economic success of Toyota. Kaikou—The Keel (Returning Light—The Dragon Bone), part of the Pan-Pacific exhibition, consisting of an excavated fishing boat, 9 tons of salt, plastic wrap, styrofoam, and live fish.
Dragon Has Arrived! composed of salvaged wood from a sunken boat, Chinese flags, electric fan, and lights. Fireworks From Heaven featuring neon lights. Reflection-A Gift from Iwaki places broken porcelain on an excavated wooden boat to “display an aesthetic of decay.” Maintaining the base theory of his explosive art, Cai commented that piece show, “unity […] in the power of destruction, the beauty of destruction.”
“Maybe the idea is like seeds and a field. A field is where you work and the weather is the climate, in the broader sense of climate—political, artistic, or otherwise. My approach in the way I farm is very much at ease. I know what the soil grows, I know what kind of weather comes when, and I know what these seeds are, but where the seeds fall and how it’s nurtured I let happen naturally. We take advantage of the climate, the weather, whether it’s rain or shine, and the temperature—these are all figured in. So, the approach is, in a very naturalistic way, going with nature to see what may be fostered, what may come out of the field and become fertilized.”
Wailing Wall—From the Engine of 400 Cars made of 400 crunched car engines. Dreams occupying a room illuminated red by dozens of boats and airplane silk lanterns hanging over a wave field created by industrial fans blowing on a silk blanket.
“This is a little bit abstract, but I think overall it’s a more holistic way that eastern philosophy looks at something. Things are always in a constant state of changing, shifting, and adjusting. We are constantly shifting and adjusting to the natural elements, so it’s not stagnant; it’s alive. It’s a living, breathing system.”
Endless uses an automatic fog machine to mask three wooden boats floating on a pool of water motioned by wave-making machine. Arbitrary History: An Infinite River incorporates resin and bamboo riverbed, water, yak skin and wood boats. Time Scroll consists of stainless steel panels, water, pumps, plastic hose, silk charmeuse, and gunpowder.