Cai Guo-Qiang Smashes Records in Shanghai

Installation view of The Ninth Wave at the Power Station of Art Photo: Courtesy Power Station of Art

In Shanghai, famed Chinese star artist Cai Guo-Qiang has struck a chord with his latest work, The Ninth Wave, a spectacular installation commenting on the country’s disastrous environmental policies. The work, at the city’s Power Station of Art, has smashed attendance records for the institution, which is China’s first state-run contemporary art center, attracting some 20,000 visitors since it opened in July.

The piece consists of a barnacle-covered full-scale fishing boat, planted in the center of the Power Station atrium. The boat is laden with life-like pandas, tigers, and other animals (they are actualy made of wool and Styrofoam), which appear to be sick, a tragicomic spin on Noah’s Arc.

The initial intention was to sail the boat down the river, but Cai failed to secure necessary permissions. As a result, the boat was instead towed along the Huangpu River by a barge.  “Of course there are occasions where I encounter resistance from the authorities” because of the environmentalist theme, Cai told the Guardian recently.

Nevertheless, the spectacular bit of environmental theater has attracted attention from the outset (see “Cai Guo-Qiang Sends Ark of Undead Animals Up Huangpu River–What?”) For Shanghai residents, the sick animals resonate with recent history: last year, the carcasses of 16,000 pigs floated down the river, a very visible reminder of the terrible state of China’s environment, a side effect of its breakneck economic development.

The message has proved resonant. NPR captured some of the reactions from Shanghai residents: “I feel Cai Guo-Qiang is trying to show that the survival of animals in the natural environment is like our own survival,” art teacher, Rachel Wang, said. “When we run into difficult situations, we all become very helpless.”

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