The word gunpowder might resonate with guns and violence. But here’s an artist who uses gunpowder for a different purpose.
Meet Cai Guo-Qiang, an internationally-acclaimed explosives artist. He began working with pyrotechnics in 1980 using gunpowder to sear his designs onto canvases.
It is assumed that he could be the only artist in history who has had over 50 million people gaze simultaneously at his artwork. If you’ve witnessed the 2008 Beijing Olympics on TV or live, you might have seen Cai’s Fireworks sculpture as the fireworks during the opening ceremony was his creation.
But 50 million gazes weren’t enough for Cai’s ambition. He wanted what was beyond the world to view his artwork and we’re talking about extraterrestrials – Cai wanted his work to be visible from space. So in 1990 he started Project Extraterrestrials, a site-specific venture in which he does work in various locations around the globe.
We find this particular excerpt from the Smithsonianmag to be a good description of Cai’s latest dream:
He wants to open “a dialogue with the universe,”. Or his blazing “crop circle” in Germany, modeled on those supposed extraterrestrial “signs” carved in wheat fields.
He stood in the center of the explosions, to symbolize, he told me, that the echoes of the birth of the universe can still be felt in every molecule of every human cell.
Another of his notable initiatives was the Project to Extend the Great Wall of China by 10,000 Meters: Project for Extraterrestrials No. 10 in 1993, in which Cai detonated a six-mile train of explosives that extended past the western end of the Great Wall of China till the edge of the Gobi Dessert. It took 15 minutes, creating a dragon-like pattern – an imperial and mythological heritage of China.
His gunpowder-flavoured art work goes back to his first experience with explosions was when he lived with his family in Quanzhou, a place where it was almost a norm to hear explosions from cannon blasts or celebratory fireworks. As we found out from his Wikipedia page:
He also saw gunpowder used in both good and bad ways, in destruction and reconstruction.
Much of his work draws on Maoist/Socialist concepts for content, especially his gunpowder drawings which strongly reflect Mao Zedong’s tenet destroy nothing, create nothing. Cai has said: “In some sense, Mao Zedong influenced all artists from our generation with his Utopian romance and sentiment.”
On a less serious note, Cai recently sent a 500-meter ladder of fire into the sky – it’s a new type of firework called the Sky Ladder (which is out of this world ah-may-zing). He had attempted the Sky Ladder three times before, in 1994 (Bath), 2001 (Shanghai), and 2012 (Los Angeles) but has never been satisfied with its results until now.
Cai mentioned in an article in thisiscolossal of how much it means to him, saying:
Sky Ladder today is tender, and touches my heart deeply: it carries affection for my hometown, my relatives and my friends. In contrast to my other attempts, which set the ignition time at dusk, this time the ladder rose toward the morning sun, carrying hope. For me, this not only means a return but also the start of a new journey.
Check out the Sky Ladder firework on Facebook and be blown away.