Cai GUO-QUIANG b.1957

Cai Guo-Qiang is an artist using elements assigned to tradition who develops a contemporary work, thus demonstrating a dialogue between past and present.

Difficult to classify, his work teaches us that the important thing is not always what is said, but how it is said.

The artist offers a cryptic proposal that may be difficult for the spectator to understand, but that directly connects with the human heritage of the local communities where he stages his events.

Drawing from eastern philosophical references he applies western methodology; we could say that he conceives and develops his events for specific communities, and in their production he takes into account site-specific elements relating to that community, with the result that his events cannot be exported or transposed.  An example of this we find in the exhibition Unlucky Year: Unrealized Projects from 2003-2004 (Washington DC, 2004)  for the Smithsonian Institution, an exhibition that brought together several projects that never materialized due to the absence of the necessary factors for their execution.

The artist conceives his art as work-in-progress and consequently the non-execution of the project does not signify failure. His objective is the process and not the final result.

Cai Guo-Qiang works with traditional Chinese materials such as gunpowder, demonstrating that this and similar elements such as fire or light, are consubstantial to all cultures. Thus, through local elements he achieves a global proposal.

He manages to make himself understood in the West through the specific details of an eastern community. Generating discourse.

He borrows from the West themes, resources, elements and methodologies that are assembled into his central discourse, from which emerges a very well-rounded and sophisticated work.

Likewise he retrieves elements of his oriental culture and achieves a universal work in the largest sense of the word, allowing both East and West to appreciate as its own the vocabulary used by the artist.

Apart from employing ever-present themes in the history of art used in all epochs and by all cultures that reflect the existentialist concerns of humankind, he resorts to contemporary subject matter that documents its space-time context, subject-matter belonging to a concrete moment such as, for example, globalised terrorism, non-existent in artistic creation until relatively recently.

A work that reflects this is: Black Rainbow: Explosion Project for Valencia,2005, in which the artist pays tribute to the victims of March 11. On this occasion, Cai Guo-Qiang uses the theme of terrorism as a storyline by inserting it into his vertebral discourse and in doing so places his work in a specific social context.

In similar vein he uses fashion as a pretext: Dragon: Explosion on Issey Miyake, Cartier Foundation, Paris, 1998 or architecture Caressing Zaha with Vodka, Rovaniemi, Finland, 2004 or the film Tonight So Lovely,Rotterdam, 2004.

Cai Guo-Qiang presents new ways of envisaging exhibitions in the institutions where he presents his projects; his events provoke a change in the notion of the museum (from acquisition to use). He breaks conventional limits and stretches them by displaying his events in urban centres (the Beijing Olympics).

A key aspect of the work of Cai Guo-Qiang is that his works are only consumed at a given moment. Predetermined, generally short and collective in form. This lends his work a unique air of celebration that defines him as a social unifying force of small and large communities.

Besides, his work has an important ritual and ceremonial component that requires active participation from the local community, both in its production and its reception.

Two points assist in understanding the work of this artist in relation to society:1. Aspecific production for the different scenarios where it will take place and 2. The product of a dialogue between its discursive elements and the values of the cultural community in which each project is developed.

In terms of production Cai Guo-Qiang involves the different strands of the community for the development of his work, using resources to a maximum and thus satisfying his Socialist values which he inherited from his education in China and connecting with the specific features of the local community, offering an empathy with society and at the same time providing feedback to the event itself.

As a result of involving the different communities in the production Cai Guo-Qiang sees to it that the spectator identifies with the work, making him feel part of the project, and in this way guaranteeing a successful reception of his endeavours.

In terms of reception, Cai Guo-Qiang devises his work according to the expectations of the local community.

He appropriates the image of a show and changes its meaning, and is capable of presenting the image of a political attack in Irak as in Inopportune: Stage One,North Adams, Massachussets, 2004, divesting it of political messages and negative connotations. 

With Transient Rainbow, Nueva York, 2002, He transformed an explosive event into something beautiful at a moment when North American society had been the victim of a terrible attack. In this case he used gunpowder as a curative element for the people ofNew York by applying the oriental meaning of the philosophy of this element, which is known inChina as the medicine of fire.

For him communities, both those involved in the production and the local communities that act as his public, are intrinsic elements shaping his artistic discourse, constituting a tool, just as oil is for a painter or iron or stone can be for a sculptor.

María Galera, artandshop, 2011

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