Master blaster

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 January, 2008, 12:00am

Right: Venice Rent Collection Courtyard (1999)

This might not be one of the gunpowder or firework pieces Cai Guoqiang is renowned for, but it was explosive all the same. Rent Collection Courtyard is an installation of life-size sculptures commissioned for the 48th Venice Biennale. It is a reconstruction of a 1965 tableau of 114 clay sculptures produced during the Cultural Revolution, depicting a group of rice farmers being exploited by their tyrant landlord in a courtyard in Sichuan province. Cai's piece caused an uproar in the mainland, with some critics slamming it as 'a postmodern approach to post-colonial imperialism'. However, the controversy did little to stop Cai from winning the Golden Lion Award at the Biennale that year.

Above: Project for Extraterrestrials No 9: Fetus Movement II (1992)

This work 'happened' at precisely nine seconds past 9.40pm on June 27. It covered an area of 15,000 squaremetres and involved 90kg of gunpowder, a 1,300-metre fuse and a seismometer with nine sensors, an electroencephalograph and an electrocardiograph. It was commissioned by The Kassel International Art Exhibition. According to the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the explosive events represent Cai's central interest in both ancient and modern cosmological science: 'His explosion events produce, however momentarily, an experience of temporal dislocation, a momentary trance when we feel ourselves to be at the beginning and the end of life on Earth'.

Left: Black Rainbow: Explosion Project for Valencia (2005)

Commissioned by Institut Valencia d'Art Modern, this work took Cai's explosive events to a higher level. Among his most famous visually stunning aerial explosion events are this one and Tornado: Explosion Project for the Festival of China, a spectacular fireworks display that was commissioned by The John F. Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts, also in 2005. Images of Black Rainbow were later used in Cai's stage collaboration with renowned choreographer Lin Hwai-min of the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan for their 2006 production Wind Shadow.

Set of Fourteen Drawings for Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Project (2002)

This set of works made even the most sceptical of Cai's critics sit up and take note. It went under the hammer for HK$74.2 million at Christie's autumn sales in Hong Kong last year. The set comprises 14 large gunpowder screens that summarise a decade of creative experimentation. Cai created the screens after orchestrating a 20-minute fireworks show during the Apec meetings in Shanghai in 2001. The set went to an anonymous bidder, who, in the process, established a world auction record for contemporary Chinese art.