In 2013, the Gallery marks 15 years of developing interactive exhibitions for children, and worked towards an exciting Children’s Art Centre project with one of today’s most celebrated international artists.
To regular visitors, Cai Guo-Qiang’s project for children will not be the first they have encountered. Back in 1999, for the inaugural Kids’ APT, the Queensland Art Gallery collaborated with Cai on one of its first interactive projects for children, and we are very excited to celebrate this milestone by presenting ‘Let’s create an exhibition with a boy named Cai’ at the Children’s Art Centre over summer 2013–14.
The process of developing artist projects and exhibitions for children and families is an incredibly rewarding, one made possible by the close collaboration of artists and the Gallery. Staff from the Children’s Art Centre, from exhibition, graphic and multimedia design and curatorial and publications departments, supported by executive management, go about bringing artists’ ideas to life for young visitors.
During the early stages of the project development, Cai proposed creating an experience in the Children’s Art Centre that would enable children to explore his repertoire of works, including his gunpowder drawings, large-scale installations and explosion events. He suggested that:
. . . based on my work and methodology, [children] will plan their own explosion events and gunpowder drawings. I want to share with them my experience as an artist, allowing them to understand and participate in an artist’s practice more in-depth.
This idea evolved when Cai provided a short story he had written, inspired by the fourth-century Chinese poet Tao Yuanming’s fable Peach Blossom Spring. Set ‘in a fictional universe that consists of only children’, a young Cai travels the world, meeting the local children in each location and ‘creating art together’.1
We set to work realising Cai’s vision with this adventurous story in mind. Responding to the setting of Cai’s New York studio, the Gallery’s exhibition designers imagined a space incorporating timber workstations and model galleries to display the objects that children might create. Children’s Art Centre staff started conversations with the artist and, bearing in mind the importance of symbolism in his practice, considered appropriate forms for such an installation to take. In order to encourage as much creativity as possible, it was decided that children would be guided by Cai’s interest in the natural world, using paper templates of animals and trees and being able to add elements from a range of materials. The boat, an important symbol in Cai’s practice for the exchange of ideas and cultures, is also included in the hands-on activity.
All agreed that the extraordinary spectacle created by Cai’s gunpowder drawings and explosion events would be impossible to re-create in the Children’s Art Centre! As an alternative, the Gallery’s multimedia designers sought from the artist sample imagery and detailed descriptions of the fireworks and gunpowder he uses. Cai’s unique way of ‘drawing’ was then animated for use in touchscreen activities, allowing children to create their own virtual explosion events and gunpowder drawings before displaying them in the exhibition space or emailing them home.
The project team worked with Cai to transform his narrative into a storyboard, which enabled the creation of two major elements of the project: an animated film, to be screened in the Children’s Art Centre; and an illustrated children’s book. As a film, Let’s Create an Exhibition with a Boy Named Cai takes children on a journey around the world as they encounter the artist’s works. Working with the Gallery’s graphic designers, animator Joe Brumm (Studio JoHo) and illustrator Alex Allen were engaged to bring the story to life. The music of local composer Dr Nicholas Ng of Griffith University’s Queensland Conservatorium and the voice of a local child also feature in the film.
The Gallery’s Young Members as well as children from West End State School, Yelangi Pre-School and Junction Park State School took part in trials of the making and multimedia activities, and also the story. This allowed the project team to gauge not only what appealed to children but also how the activities worked at a practical level and to consider any necessary modifications. Regular trials provide valuable opportunities to incorporate children, parent and teacher feedback directly into the development of our activities. For artists and Gallery staff alike, this is a rewarding stage in the development of Children’s Art Centre projects. Founded on many months of liaison, research, design and prototyping, such projects are then completed by children as they visit the exhibition, inspired by what they see through the eyes of contemporary artists such as Cai Guo-Qiang.
1 Cai Studio, ‘Proposal for Children’s Art Centre’, 9 April 2013.
‘Cai Guo-Qiang: Falling Back to Earth’ features three major installations, including two newly commissioned works directly inspired by the landscapes of southeast Queensland, which the artist visited in 2011. The centrepiece of the exhibition — Heritage 2013 — features 99 replicas of animals from around the world, gathered together to drink from a blue lake surrounded by pristine white sand, reminiscent of the lakes of Moreton Bay’s islands. The second installation, Eucalyptus 2013 responds to the ancient trees of Lamington National Park in the Gold Coast hinterland, while the third — Head On 2006 — is a striking installation of 99 artificial wolves leaping en masse into a glass wall, on display in Australia for the first time.
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Feature image detail: Cover of Let’s Create an Exhibition with a Boy Named Cai