Cai Guo-Qiang
I Want to Believe
F.G.R., July 27, 2009
Cai Guo-Qiang/Self
Cai Guo-Qiang/Self
Installations: Dialogue between local history and globalization.

Cai’s practice expands to interactive installations that frequently recuperate signs and symbols of Chinese culture and brilliantly expose the dialectics of local history and globalization.

Several of Cai’s most highly acclaimed installations will also be on view at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao retrospective. Reflection—A Gift from Iwaki , 2004, features the remains of a shipwrecked vessel transformed into a receptacle for several tons of white ceramics from thousands of broken porcelain. The installation was originally created for the Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C. Cai Guo-Qiang’s nine-year stay in Japan, from 1986 to 1995, resulted in many long-term relationships with the Iwaki community. To produce the work, the artist mobilized local workers from Iwaki, and the video that recorded the social process of making the artwork can be seen alongside the work itself. The team of local inhabitants who have taken part in the installation of the work wherever the retrospective has been staged has also come to Bilbao to supervise the installation process in the galleries.

Cai Guo-Qiang/Rent collection
Cai Guo-Qiang/Rent collection
Another key installation is Bilbao’s Rent Collection Courtyard, 2009, which includes more than seventy life-size clay sculptures, arranged in narrative scenes, constructed on-site at the museum with the collaboration between local and Chinese sculptors. The work was inspired by a socialistrealist sculpture group from 1965, which represented the appalling situation of peasants under the yoke of a rapacious landlord during the pre-revolutionary Kuomindang government, and which provided a foretaste of the propagandistic zeal of socialist-realist art during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976).

For a decade, Rent Collection Courtyard (Shou Zu Yuan) was reproduced and erected in cities throughout China, where it was the most emotionally charged and ubiquitous political image after Mao’s portrait. Cai’s intention in showing this historically charged socialist-realist work is to expand our understanding of contemporary art by revealing the mass outreach and emotional power of a seemingly “retrograde” style of art that was dominant in China for decades. The work is also a barbed comment on the fate of art and artists under the manipulation of political ideology. For the sculptural ensemble’s re-creation in Bilbao, the artist has invited four Chinese artisans and students from the Fine Arts Faculty at the UPV University of the Basque Country to reenact the making of the work on site and then allow the sculptures to decompose over the course of the show.

Cai Guo-Qiang/reflexion.
Cai Guo-Qiang/reflexion.
One other major work included in the Bilbao exhibition, as spectacular as it is aesthetically pleasing, underscores the bond between the artist and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Produced for the artist’s solo exhibition at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin in 2006, the installation Head On is a kind of retable in which 99 life-size replicas of wolves run full-tilt towards—and into—a transparent glass wall.

Social Projects: Projects to “create culture”

Cai commenced what have been termed “social projects” in the early 1990s, working with non-art sites and volunteers outside of the professional art world to create spaces for debate. These ongoing experiments and interventions carry out the artist’s utopian ideals of social engagement and mobilization, with a sustained belief in the transformational nature and the potential for dialogue within communities of people.

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