The Third Special Daytime Firework: Celebrating Transient Landscape
On Cailendar Day 29, the third special Daytime Firework was revealed to commemorate Cai’s solo exhibition Cai Guo-Qiang: The Transient Landscape in 2019.
The following information is sourced and quoted from:
- Cai Guo-Qiang’s official website: https://caiguoqiang.com/
- Cai Guo-Qiang’s publication: Odyssey and Homecoming
- Official website of The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV): https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/exhibition/terracotta-warriors-cai-guo-qiang/
On ‘Transient Landscape’
In May 2019, Australia’s oldest, largest, and most visited art museum the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) opened Cai Guo-Qiang: The Transient Landscape concurrently with the historical exhibition of Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality, a display of Qin dynasty artifacts from the tomb of China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huang.
The exhibition marked the first time in history that the Terracotta Warriors, often considered an “eighth wonder of the world,” were exhibited alongside contemporary art. Cai’s work engages in a multidimensional dialogue with these artifacts from the past, corresponding on conceptual, material, and pictorial levels. On this dialogue, Cai remarked:
“The Transient Landscape and Guardians of Immortality are two exhibitions, akin to two rivers of time separated by two millennia, which course simultaneously but separately in the same space. Herein, the ancient and contemporary signify two surges of energy, a tension between them crisscrosses and tugs at each other, mutually attracting and repelling.”
In each room of Terracotta Warriors, Cai had his works — a series of largescale, site-specific gunpowder paintings and installations — coexist with the ancient works and artifacts. His exhibition accordingly was intermeshed with Terracotta Warriors, generating a multidimensional dialogue with the past on conceptual, material, and pictorial levels. Conceptually, both Qin Shi Huang and Cai sought to secure and visualize the unseen world. Whereas the emperor prepared his tomb for his afterlife, the artist demonstrated his cosmology engaging both the external and internal realms.
Materially, Cai exploded gunpowder on porcelain, handmade hemp paper, and silk, in correspondence to the Terracotta Warriors and other artifacts unearthed from the emperor’s mausoleum. Pictorially, the imagery in Cai’s works, such as mountain ranges, cypress trees, and peony blossoms, are symbolic of Chinese history and culture. The somber tones of the artist’s expression allude to the colors of life, nationhood, and empire. Taken together, the juxtaposition invites the viewer to confront history and consider the present in a multivalent way.
For Cai, this solo exhibition indicated a natural segue into a dialogue with his own Eastern land, after a multi-year exploration on the origins of Western civilization aptly titled Individual’s Journey through Western Art History. For the exhibition, Cai created Murmuration (Landscape), a set of ten thousand porcelain birds that threaded through the two exhibitions from beginning to end as a lingering spirit or a haunting shadow.
These birds were made of porcelain to respond to the material of the Warriors. Their bodies were first handcrafted in Cai’s hometown and later scorched by gunpowder in Melbourne, to achieve expressive patterns akin to ink-wash painting. On this work, Cai commented:
“Exhibitions of Terracotta Warriors overseas often display only a few sculptures, taking part in the exoticized promotion of a distant culture. These exhibitions can’t communicate the grandeur of Qin and Han dynasties, nor can they speak of today’s China and its relationship with the rest of the world…The ever-changing formation of ten thousand porcelain birds seems to embody the lingering spirits of the underground army, or perhaps the haunting shadow of China’s imperial past.”