Chinese artist Cai Guoqiang, Director of the opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympics [Photo: baidu.com]
Firecrackers and fireworks continue to be set off in Chinese communities around the world, signifying the Lunar New Year is not over. Fireworks and gunpowder is the specialty of international Chinese born artist Cai Guoqiang.
Cai Guoqiang is one of the most renowned figures in the global art system of biennials, pubic celebrations and museum exhibitions to date. The New York-based Chinese artist dazzled the world with his fireworks projects in the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.
Cai Guoqiang's fireworks project "Footprints of History" showcased at
the Beijing Olympic Games [Photo Source: baidu.com]
Featuring "Footprints of History" that included 29 giant footprints walking across the axis of Beijing, the fireworks displayed the essence of China's rich culture and vision to the world. Cai Guoqiang explains the initiative behind this work.
"The opening ceremony of the Olympic Games was a grand celebration. I wanted to add a new dimension or subject to this event. The firework project 'Footprints of History' featured the axis of Beijing and through this work I bound the history of China with the destiny of the city and future prospect of our country together."
As the director of Visual and Special Effects at the Beijing Olympics, Cai Guoqiang says his return to China was a homecoming. A path that affirmed both his Chinese culture and the distance he traveled to find his sense of self.
"Basically this is the story of a traveler, from Quanzhou to Shanghai, then Japan and America. The Olympics brought me back to my native land. I am tired of travelling because I have numerous exhibitions all year round. I wanted to try different things and the Olympics offered me an opportunity to break away from my routine and to think again about my native culture."
Born in Quanzhou City in southeastern China in 1957, Cai studied stage design at the Shanghai Drama Institute. He soon emerged as a member of "85 New Wave", China's first contemporary art movement in the 1980s.
Cai no longer recalls when he first began painting. However, his father, who is a historian and painter, played a significant role in his life.
"My father was keen on Chinese calligraphy and painting. When I was little, he often sat me on his lap and drew paintings on matchboxes after smoking a cigarette. He enjoyed drawing scenes with mountains and rivers, especially of my hometown. I was amazed how he managed to present such a big world in a tiny space. This is the romanticism of the Chinese people, and I have now fulfilled my fathers' dream for me."
Gunpowder Painting by Cai Guoqiang [Photo: baidu.com]
Gunpowder is a Chinese invention and is a byproduct of alchemy. In Cai Guoqiang's hometown of Quanzhou, celebrating important social occasions is done with firecrackers. For him, gunpowder is a natural medium, which parallels traditional ink paintings in ancient China. In addition to the cultural symbol of gunpowder, Cai Guoqiang is fascinated by the power of the material itself. His gunpowder works reflect his philosophy that conflict and change are part of life and hence, art.
With this oriental romanticism and the ambition to know a larger world outside, Cai Guoqiang studied in Japan in 1986. Living there, he mastered the use of gunpowder to create his signature gunpowder drawings and related outdoor explosion events.
"The Japanese attach great importance to the pursuit of perfection, which can be seen from the tea ceremony and Japanese paintings. I think the influence for me is the feel of the properties, the passion for the material, and how to explore the energy of the properties to the fullest extent."
Cai's approach draws on a wide variety of symbols and traditions such as feng shui, Chinese medicine, cosmos, and the seen and unseen world. He quickly achieved international prominence during his stay in Japan and his work was displayed throughout the world. He is routinely among the Power 100 listed by the UK journal Art Review.
While his star was still rising, Cai chose to leave again, this time heading to America. In 1995, Cai Guoqiang moved to New York. No longer a Chinese insider, not yet a western native, Cai Guoqiang's artwork continues to challenge tradition and modernity, between the conventions of eastern and western art.
Tomorrow we continue with the story of Cai Guoqiang and his struggles in a different world with different dreams.