Chinese artist’s gunpowder, explosion piece show starts with a bang


With a deafening bang and a colorful display of fireworks, renowned Chinese artist Cai Guoqiang’s exhibition of gunpowder drawings, installations and explosion events kicked off outside the Geffen Contemporary in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday evening.

On the towering exterior wall of an exhibition hall run by the Museum of Contemporary Art, a string of eight crop circles made with reeds was laid. On the left side of the wall was an imaginary alien-god figure, whose head is surrounded by a halo.

Hundreds of spectators gathered on the sprawling parking lot outside the hall, eagerly waiting for the moment when the artwork is set ablaze.

At 7:42 p.m.(0342 GMT), “Mystery Circle: Explosion Event,” the public outdoor explosion event, was launched by a deafening bang and a rising fireball, as 40,000 firework rockets formed the design of the crop circles and launched perpendicular to the wall before falling onto the ground. Then, about 100 spinning pyrotechnic “UFOs” sporadically appeared from the ground, while the alien-god figure was outlined from bottom to top by gunpowder fuses.

As a grand finale, rockets shot into the dark sky when the burned fuses reached the “halo” of the imaginary figure, leaving a burned imprint on the wall, representing the first time when an imaginary alien figure actually appears since the Chinese master created his signature explosion event, titled “Project for Extraterrestrials,” in the 1990s.

The huge crowd gathered on the parking lot and surrounding structures in Little Tokyo district in downtown Los Angeles burst into wild applause.

“Oh, My,” Sally, a woman in her 50s, cried after witnessing the grand explosion and display of fireworks. “Never in my life.”

An unnamed young man said he did not believe the work was real until he got hold of a burned rocket. “It was spectacular,” he said.

The event, which was completed in less than five minutes, unveiled “Cai Guoqiang: Sky Ladder,” an exhibition which is the New York-based artist’s first solo show ever held on West Coast of the United States.

“Cai Guoqiang fuses historical references and a futuristic vision to create art that is totally contemporary,” commented museum Director Jeffrey Deitch. “His work engages his audiences both experientially and visually. It is spectacular but also intimate. Cai draws the viewer into his imagined world.”

Deitch believed that audiences would experience Cai’s versatility through the show and surrounding events — he uses different materials and art forms to visualize the invisible forces in nature, in imaginative and playful ways.

Cai sees his art as a “time-space tunnel through which the visible world communicates with the energy from the unseen world,” Deitch said.

The show, which runs through to July 30, explores Cai’s lifelong fascination with unseen forces in the physical and metaphysical worlds. His explosion events and installations aptly incorporate both temporal and spatial dynamics, and the creative process is also part of the finished work.

Cai, born in 1957 in Quanzhou of southeastern China, explored the properties of gunpowder in his drawings, an inquiry that eventually led to his experimentation with explosives on a massive scale and to the development of his signature explosion events.

He was the director of visual and special effects for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. His artwork was also shown in other U.S. cities including New York and Houston.

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