Cai Guo-Qiang likes to ignite things… few will ever forget his majestic display of pyrotechnics at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. I was present for his 2009 meditation on the passing of time, Light Passage, a gunpowder series on paper heralded by Fallen Blossoms, the gunpowder fuse shaped like a blossoming flower ignited at sunset outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art. His artistic technic is memorable for the impressions that come after the loud bangs, leaving nothing but darkened images that drift off into the wind. The shadows may phase out, but these outlines of the once existing things create palpable discussions that continue well after his installations have been set off.
Last year, 16,000 dead pigs floated down the Huangpu River in Shanghai last year, due to high levels of air pollution. This catastrophic event inspired The Ninth Wave which not only questions China’s environmental conditions through more visual fare, but our day-to-day environmental interactions with mother earth on a more global scale. The installations visual influence is culled from Russian painter Ivan Aivazovsky’s 1850 painting, also entitled, ‘The Ninth Wave’, which depicts weary survivors helplessly clinging onto debris the night after they were shipwrecked in a storm, with the day breaking depicted in warm tones, it gives the viewer hope that these survivors might just make it.
The Ninth Wave opened with a elegy in his hometown of Shanghai – eight minutes of multicolored smoke shooting up from the Huangpu River (very same river the pigs were found in) bought attention to an unexpected fishing boat floating down the river replacing Aivazovsky’s survivors with 99 faux animals, all looking sullen and weary.
The discussion continues with other installs built around the theme of social change at Shanghai’s contemporary art museum, the Power Station of Art.
Power Station of Art
200 Huayuangang Rd,
Dig a little deeper with the artist with this Q&A.
Photo credit: Benoit Florencon and the Cai Guo-Qiang website