After devastation, there is often bloom. Such is the story told through the eyes and hands of prolific Chinese contemporary artist Cai Guo Qiang. For the unititiated: Cai was born in Quanzhou, China and has since mastered various mediums, from performance art and painting to installation and video. The mode most synonymous with him, however, is his life-size installations dubbed “gunpowder works”. Inspired by Eastern philosophy, these on-site displays manifest as a physical response to the world as seen by Cai. Staged as intricate outdoor spectacles, his smokey, floating paintings take inspiration from not only the location it is being displayed at, but also the interconnected culture and history of its surroundings. As such, the artist’s impact has transcended borders. A Golden Lion, Hiroshima Art Prize and Fukoka Prize recipient, Cai was bestowed by the Japanese royal family as a Laureate for the Praemium Imperiale for painting. Most recently, he also clinched the Isamu Noguchi Award.
After the fog of the pandemic and a two year hiatus—during which Cai was trapped in his home in New Jersey—the artist looked back on his time in Japan. Having moved there in 1986 and lived there for nine years, the coastal town of Fukushima served as a physical muse and artistic base, bringing about his inaugural explosion event: ‘The Horizon from the Pan-Pacific: Project for Extraterrestrials No. 14’ almost thirty years ago. With the support of Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello, as well as his audacity, tenacity, curiosity, innovation and creativity aligning with the spirit of Mr Yves Saint Laurent, Cai’s vision came to life. It is fashioned out of his belief in awakening the dreams of hope for Yotsukura Beach in Iwaki City that was hit by the atomic bomb, tsunami and a recent earthquake. It brought forth the idea of clouds in a mélange of colours blossoming in the sky like Sakuras celebrating the strength and tenacity of its people. His visual aim? To toy with the idea of cosmic perspective, creating surrealistic brush strokes. For Saint Laurent, it was part of a commitment to creative excellence beyond the realm of fashion. And boy, did it achieve just that.
On 26 June at 12.00pm, the project, ‘When the Sky Blooms with Sakura’ made history as the first daytime fireworks to ever be displayed in Japan. The installation sprawled for 30 minutes and featured 40,000 choreographed firework shells between the sea and the sky. Spanning 400 metres wide and 130 metres tall, Cai injected the spectacle with the intricacies of storytelling. Sprawling black and blue waves hinted at the pain of the past; plumes of white symbolised mourning for wars and the pandemic and pink sakura clouds nodded at a hopeful future.
The installation also set the scene for Cai’s solo exhibition ‘Ramble in the Cosmos—From Primeval Fireball Onward’ at the National Art Center, Tokyo—an exploration of gunpowder drawing on paper. It will also showcase Cai’s both historic and exclusive, new pieces by Cai.
Shared Cai of both installations: “Thank you to the beautiful sea and sky of Yotsukura, and the rare cooperation and companionship of the sound of the wind and waves in this worrisome June. Mankind today is facing various challenges such as coexisting with the pandemic, economic decline, deglobalization, and increased national and cultural conflicts. Through the sakura in the sky, I was expressing the story of the friendship between the people of Iwaki and me, which transcends politics and history, and I hope that the artwork will inspire the world with faith and hope.”
‘Ramble in the Cosmos—From Primeval Fireball Onward’ will take place from 29 June to 21 August. All information regarding the exhibition can be found here.