Cai Guo-Qiang: Falling Back to Earth

Cai Guo-Qiang, China b.1957 / Heritage (artist’s impression) 2013 / 99 life-sized replicas of various animals, water, sand / Commissioned for the exhibition ‘Cai Guo-Qiang: Falling Back to Earth’ / © Cai Guo-Qiang

Cai Guo-Qiang made significant contributions to the Gallery’s Asia Pacific Triennials in 1996 and 1999, with his memorable gunpowder drawing and bamboo bridge across the Watermall. He was also involved in the first Kids’ APT in 1999, with his bridge-making activity. It is this close association between Cai and the Gallery over the past eighteen years that has enabled ‘Cai Guo-Qiang: Falling Back to Earth’ to be realised in Brisbane, his first solo exhibition in Australia.

Cai Guo-Qiang, China b.1957 / Nine Dragon Wall (Drawing for Dragon or Rainbow Serpent: A Myth Glorified or Feared: Project for Extraterrestrials No. 28) 1996 / Spent gunpowder and Indian ink on Japanese paper / Nine drawings: 300 x 200cm (each) / Purchased 1996 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art /  © Cai Guo-Qiang
Cai Guo-Qiang, China b.1957 / Blue dragon & bridge crossing /Project commissioned for the 3rd Asia-Pacific Triennial 1999 / © Cai Guo Qiang

Cai makes art works that bring people together in a single, special moment. His installations, gunpowder drawings and explosion events spectacularly transform both materials and our experience of space, opening up what the artist has called ‘a dialogue with the universe’. Each of Cai’s works reaches into a kind of collective consciousness, drawing on mythology, history, science and metaphysics to offer a view of the world that is far broader and more interconnected than the one we usually see.

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Cai Guo-Qiang: Falling Back to Earth’ (2013-14) at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) marks a new focus for the artist. As the title suggests, he has turned his attention away from the universe to look more closely at the Earth, our common home. After travelling throughout Queensland, Cai was inspired to create two major new installations that reflect on our relationship to nature, as well as to how we relate to each other in a time of globalisation. Australia’s unique environments and multicultural society is of great interest to Cai, although he is also aware of the fragility of both, and the need to nurture and care for them so that they may grow and flourish into the future.

Cai Guo-Qiang, China b.1957 / Head On 2006 / 99 life-sized replicas of wolves and glass wall / Wolves: gauze, resin, and painted hide / Deutsche Bank Collection, commissioned by Deutsche Bank AG / © FMGBGuggenheim Bilbao Museoa, 2009 / Photo: Erika Barahona-Ede

A centrepiece of the exhibition is a dramatic new commission, Heritage 2013, which features 99 life-sized artificial animals from around the world, gathered together at a watering hole. Also included will be Cai’s iconic 2006 work Head On, which features 99 life-sized artificial wolves configured as a large group, leaping into the air before crashing into a glass wall. Referencing the scale of the Berlin Wall, this transparent barrier suggests the divisions that exist between people, as well as the danger of looking only at what is obvious. Wolves are heroic when they act together, but they are blind when following the pack rather than thinking for themselves. As the wolves walk back from the wall and begin the cycle again, Cai evokes the tendency of humanity to historically repeat its mistakes.

Related: Falling Back to Earth

It is significant that Cai has chosen Australia as the place to shift the focus in his practice; to ‘return to earth from the heavens’ and consider the here and now, and where we might be heading.

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Feature image detail: Cai Guo-Qiang Heritage (artist’s impression) 2013

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