Perhaps something resonates from our shared training in set design, but from the first day I saw the work of artist Cai Guo-Qiang, I fell deeply in love.
Cai Guo-Quiang has been featuring animals as part of his multi-facetted work for a long while - his flying wolves and tigers embedded with arrows being some of his most famous examples - so World Animal Day seems the perfect opportunity to share his work with you.
Birds and Flowers of Brazil (detail) by Cai Guo-Quiang Gunpowder on paper, 2013. Photo by Zhang Feiyu, courtesy Cai Studio
Spring Gunpowder drawing on porcelain by Cai Guo-Quiang Part of installation Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, Power Station of Art, Shanghai, 2014. Photo by Zhang Feiyu, courtesy Cai Studio
The Ninth Wave by Cai Guo-Quiang Installation view of in the Great Hall of the Power Station of Art, Shanghai, 2014. Photo by Zhang Feiyu, courtesy Cai Studio
The Bund Without Us by Cai Guo-Quiang Gunpowder drawing on paper, 4m x 27m Re‐imagines the cityscape of Shanghai without human presence and overtaken by nature Installation view, Power Station of Art, Shanghai, 2014. Photo by Wen-You Cai, courtesy Cai Studio
Since he trained in stage design at the Shanghai Theatre Academy, Cai has experimented with various media including drawing, installation, video and performance art. While living in Japan from 1986 to 1995, he began to use gunpowder in his drawings - my favourite of his remarkable techniques which he continues to use - and which also led to his signature explosion events.
In his latest exhibition, The Ninth Wave, at Power Station of Art, (China’s first publicly-funded contemporary art museum in Shanghai) Cai examines the after-effects of rampant industrialisation and environmental catastrophes. A huge, interdisciplinary show, The Ninth Wave features large-scale installations, ceramics, drawings and performance.
The exhibition - takes its name from an 1850 painting by Ivan Aivazovsky which depicts survivors of a shipwreck clinging helplessly to the boat in the face of overwhelming forces of nature. With the World Wildlife fund this week announcing, that our blue planet has lost half of its wildlife in the past 40 years, it is not surprising that in Cai GuoQiang’s Ninth Wave, it is he animals who live in fear of the human race that has disrupted the balance of the ecosystem.
One of the main installations of the exhibition, with the same title, is a cramped Noah’s ark populated by dejected-looking stuffed animals. Before the opening of the exhibition Cai set sail on this fishing boat from his hometown of Quanzhou down the Huangpu River and to the pier at Power Station of Art.
After arriving at the museum, the installation was installed indoors alongside several other large-scale works.
While I admit that I am more a fan of his gunpowder drawings than his animal installations, in this exhibition, Cai GuoQiang seems to have managed consummately that most delicate of balances - making a statement whilst simultaneously making really good art. I only wish I could be there.
Is it ok for art to make a statement?
Do art and global issues mix. Don't be shy, share your opinion in the comments!