Cai Guo-Qiang is internationally acclaimed as an artist whose creative transgressions and cultural provocations have literally exploded the accepted parameters of art making in our time.
Born in Quanzhou, China, in 1957, and a resident of Japan and then New York since 1995, Cai has developed a unique aesthetic iconography that draws freely from ancient mythology, military history, Taoist metaphysics, science cosmological science, extraterrestrial observations, Maoist revolutionary tactics, Buddhist philosophy, gunpowder-related technology, Chinese medicine and methods of terrorist violence. Cai’s art is a form of social energy, constantly mutable, linking what he refers to as “the seen and unseen worlds.”
The “I Want To Believe” exhibition at the Solomon Guggehneim Museum in New York presents the full spectrum of the artist’s protean, multimedia art in all its conceptual complexity with the idea in Cai’s words of “filling the museum with the power of an explosion.”
After moving to Japan in 1986, Cai tapped into a rich vein of international 20th-century art and critical thought. While living there, he mastered the use of gunpowder to create his signature gunpowder drawings and the related outdoor explosion events. These practices integrate science and art in a process of creative destruction and reflect Cai’s philosophy that conflict and transformation are interdependent conditions of life, and hence art. At once intuitive and analytical, his gunpowder drawings and explosion events are intrepid, conceptual, site specific, ephemeral, time based and interactive performance art with a new matrix of cultural meaning.
Major works that are anticipated to be featured in the exhibition include a version of Inopportune: Stage One (2004), comprised of nine real cars pierced with blinking light tubes to simulate exploding vehicles that will be suspended in the central void of the rotunda; and a restaging of Venice’s Rent Collection Courtyard (1999), for which the artist won the Golden Lion Award at the 48th Venice Biennale and which features approximately fifty clay sculptures that will be constructed on-site and allowed to crumble, which are a re-make of an iconic social realist tableaux from the Cultural Revolution era; and An Arbitrary History: River (2001), in which visitors are invited to board a raft and float along a serpentine river constructed of fiberglass, bamboo, and water beneath an assortment of Cai’s past installations that are suspended from the ceiling.
Cai Guo-Qiang’s drawings made from igniting gunpowder explosives laid on paper constitute a new medium of contemporary artistic expression. Together with the explosion events to which they are conceptually linked, Cai’s gunpowder drawings convey his central idea of mediating natural energy forces to create works that connect both the artist and the viewer with a primordial state of chaos, contained in the moment of explosion. They also demonstrate his central interest in the relationship of matter and energy; in these works, matter (gunpowder) explodes into energy and reverts to matter in another state (the charred drawing). In this way, they are charts of time, process, and transformation.
China’s most famous invention, gunpowder, literally meaning “fire medicine” in Chinese — which is a mixture of saltpeter, charcoal, and sulfur — was originally discovered by Daoist alchemists in search of an imperial “elixir of immortality.” Best known for his explosion events, Cai began using gunpowder and fuse lines to create explosions for public audiences using the ground and existing structures as a framework. These early works lasted between one and fifteen seconds.
Since then, Cai’s practice has evolved dramatically. He now produces aerial explosion events that are often developed with professional pyrotechnicians. Most recently the artist has harnessed computerized technology to create more elaborate explosion imagery, whose effects last as long as twenty minutes.
The explosion events are usually realized through commissions by museums, art biennials, or national and international agencies. Cai’s explosion events are primarily created with gunpowder while others are designed as celebratory spectacles in the tradition of fireworks displays (Cai derides this term). But they are also contemporary works of art with charged conceptual, allegorical, and metaphorical narrative.
The artist’s site-specific installation at the Guggenheim presents art as a process that unfolds in time and space, dealing with ideas of transformation, expenditure of materials, and connectivity. The structure of Cai’s art forms are inherently unstable, but his social idealism characterizes all change, however violent, as carrying the seeds of positive creation. Subverting tropes such as East versus West, traditional versus contemporary, center versus periphery, Cai offers a new cultural paradigm for the art of a global age and expands the meaning of the phrase “I want to believe.”
The exhibition: Cai Guo-Qiang ‘I Want to Believe‘ Guggenheim Museum February 22/ March 28 2008 View exhibition on line
The Source: Guggenheim Museum