The acclaimed land and fireworks artist Cai Guo-Qiang sets off gunpowder explosions on specially made Japanese hemp paper; he is well known for the events, which are in fact much more controlled than they seem to be when watched live or on video. Actually, the heavy paper partly contains the explosion, which is also directed by stencils, wood, and rocks. The explosion is set off by Cai's lighting of the gunpowder at one end of the drawing's design. People at that moment move away quickly from the impact, being respectful of the power of the ignited gunpowder. Assistants run up to the still smoking drawings, extinguishing any further burning of the paper. After the event ends, the drawing is transferred from the ground and attached to a wall, where the artist can see the finished product. It is to be noted that the process of making the gunpowder drawings is analogous to a performance, seemingly much of it brought about without intervention on the part of Cai. Yet it is clear from videos and photographs of his participation that Cai directs much of what happens; his drawings of dragons and China's Great Wall demonstrate to what degree he is accurate in working out something that can be figuratively read.
Cai's directed experimentations in exploded drawings may also be seen as a recognition of Chinese accomplishment—gunpowder had originated from China in the ninth century. The artist has made a remarkable career of using Chinese history and myth as the materials of his subtle, usually intuitive presentation of his art. Indeed, Cai follows his resolve to offer his audience fragments of historical greatness. In keeping with what amounts to a vision of China's former, present, and future achievements, Cai beguiles his viewers with an eclectic, very mixed bag of art that shifts from dynasty to dynasty with aplomb. As a result, his works must be considered not only pieces that celebrate the artist's vision, they must also be known as illustrations of cultural attainment, whose success brings to contemporary life some of the verve and power of Chinese civilization. Unlike the Western figure of the highly individualized artist, Cai finds strength in his broadly cultural offerings, which celebrate anonymous accomplishment as much as the hand of the artist. Indeed, the silent celebration of mass culture is intrinsic to Cai's vision, responsible for extending the Great Wall by 10,000 meters, surely a nod to the myriad unknown persons responsible for its construction.
The drawing Money Net No.3 (Lot 1011), a work produced by the artist in commemoration of the performance staged at the Royal Academy of Art in London, where Cai set off gunpowder into an explosion that lasted one to two seconds, a fuse descending from above the paper in the middle of a square. Money Net is meant to bring about good energies and prosperity for those involved with and looking on at the explosion. Like many of Cai's projects, it shows that something explosive may be indicative not only of distress and trouble, but also of positive strength. The exploded grid marks correspond to the idea of a making a net to catch money; a dark shadow covering some of the grid is prominent in the overall design of the net. While Money Net's ostensible purpose has to do with cash, the brilliant explosion responsible for the drawing's existence is a tour de force of an event. As happens much of the time with Cai's art, there is an element of disturbance that goes beyond the brief moment of the gunpowder's ignition. We are invited to take part as active recipients of the explosion and its effects, but we must be careful as well—just as Cai is careful to remove himself from the exploding drawings once the fuse has been lit. Money Net, a rather large enterprise, is that much closer to demanding its respect as an intervention in its own right, as well as a momentary igniting of fearsome energies for the creation of the drawing, placed directly beneath the explosion itself. Both Spider Web and Money Net demonstrate Cai at his creative best, not only creating but to a high extent controlling the explosion in ways that both highlight the event itself and create images that remain monumentally powerful in our imagination.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.