Cai Guo-Qiang
I Want to Believe
F.G.R., July 27, 2009
Cai Guo-Qiang/Century mushrooms
Cai Guo-Qiang/Century mushrooms
Explosion Events: “Creative Destruction”

One of China’s most famous inventions is gunpowder—literally “fire medicine” in Chinese. Cai began using gunpowder and fuse lines to create explosion events for public audiences. He used the ground of a site and existing structures as a physical framework. The early events 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—in the engineering of the fireworks shells—the computerized technology to create more elaborate and precise explosions. Cai’s explosion events are often realized through commissions by museums, art biennials, or national and international agencies.

As time-based works created for live public audiences, the explosion events operate as performances, whose impact—thunderous bangs, fiery light, smoke, and floating debris—conjures both violent chaos and ritual celebration. And in the tradition of ephemeral art, the explosion events become known only through their documentation—photographs, videos, and drawings.

Cai Guo-Qiang/2008_Foot prints
Cai Guo-Qiang/2008_Foot prints
Among the more important works from the early phase of Cai Guo-Qiang’s career included in the show is a series of videos documenting the explosion events he staged in more than twenty cities, from 1989, together with the gunpowder drawings like Fetus Movement II: Project For Extraterrestrials no. 9 , 1992, part of a larger breakthrough series entitled Projects For Extraterrestrials . A number of other works from this series will be on show in Bilbao. For the artist, imagining that extraterrestrial intelligence exists implies an approach similar to the function of art: the coexistence of two, or multiple, realities. The “I Want to Believe” slogan on a poster in Cai’s studio—which unbeknownst to the artist was popularized by the American science fiction television series The X-Files — captures the otherworldly idealism at the core of Cai’s protean artistic practice.

Cai Guo-Qiang/Great wall
Cai Guo-Qiang/Great wall
From the mid-1990s Cai has appropriated the atomic mushroom cloud, proposing that this memorable icon of the 20th century can shed a light in our collective consciousness when presented as artwork. The show at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao brings together the most significant of the gunpowder drawings and the videos of the explosion events in the series The Century of Mushroom Clouds: Project for the 20th Century, 1995–96, and an album recently acquired by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Drawing for The Century of Mushroom Clouds: Project for the 20th Century (1995–96), which juxtaposes explosion images of a mushroom cloud with two actual lingzhi mushrooms, which are used as a traditional Chinese medicinal remedy.

The exhibition also includes Drawing for Footprints of History , 2008, a major panoramic gunpowder drawing measuring over 33 meters in length, created recently to commemorate the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, for which the artist served as Director of Visual and Special Effects. Cai was a core member of the creative team that planned the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Olympic Games—ceremonies that were designed as art spectacles of unprecedented mass outreach that reached one-third of the global population.

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