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"An Arbitrary History: Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang"
2003-03-28 until 2003-06-01
Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst
The thread running through Cai Guo-Qiang’s diverse, eclectic body of work is his constant search for man’s place in the natural and social universe. Each new work attempts to widen our understanding of the complex relationship between man, the Earth and space. The fundamental idea behind his work has been the derivation of power and energy from nature. In this he allots an important role to chance or what is beyond our control. In his work he confronts aggressive elements with gentle facets. Cai aims to make art that is both universal and intimate.
The work of Cai Guo-Qiang involves such themes as national and cultural identity, intercultural exchange, spirituality - especially eastern philosophy - and the power of nature. In this way our awareness of the interaction of different cultures from the past, present and future is sharpened. His projects are larded with references to history, specific locations, events and the body of ideas in contemporary art. Using elegant metaphors he achieves a poetic universality. One of the most important characteristics of his creations is the diversity of materials used: in his work he incorporates materials such as paper kites, Jacuzzis, miniature golf courses, melted car engines, wood derived from decayed boats and things like classical sculptures.
Cai’s minutely organized events, performances or installations in several parts are restricted to a particular area, are often very brief, and mainly known through photos and documentation. This also applies to his work Dragon Skeleton / Suture of the wall (9.11.1996), a drawing on the wall in S.M.A.K. which he made during a brief explosion of gunpowder at the opening of the Red Gate exhibition. The mural drawing is a scar on the wall of the museum storage space, and is permanent and fixed yet cannot be displayed to the public.
In his hands gunpowder does not acquire a negative connotation (destruction, violence), but is once more related to its original function: communication. At the same time he is also interested in the constructive and deconstructive aspects of gunpowder, in the way in which destruction can also recreate. In this context he refers to the Big Bang or the genesis of Creation where man and cosmos greet one another during a brief period of chaos.
Cai has become widely known during recent years and has participated in many international exhibitions and projects. He was awarded the Golden Lion for his work at the 1999 Venice Biennale. Last summer he was given the privilege of organising an event (also with fireworks, noise and smoke) for the opening of the new MoMA in Queens, New York.