Watch Cai Guo-Qiang’s Explosive Gunpowder Performance

His medium is gunpowder.

Cai Guo-Qiang igniting gunpowder drawing White Tone, in Brookhaven, New York, 2016. Photo: Chiaying Yu

Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang set fire to his latest work last week. Of course, that was the point, because Cai’s material of choice is gunpowder.

To mark the creation of his monumental 18 meter by 4 meter (that’s nearly 59 feet by 13 feet) work for a summer exhibition in July at the Fondation Cartier, Paris, the artist’s studio held a small gathering to witness his inimitable drawing technique in a unique performance.

The work produced at the gunpowder performance will become part of a show titled “The Great Animal Orchestra,” which is based on the work and research of the American bioacoustician Bernie Krause.

Taking place at a specialized fireworks production warehouse in Brookhaven, New York, the performance was over in a loud “bang!” as smoke rose from the surface of the drawing.

Cai Guo-Qiang White Tone (2016). Photo: Photo: Chiaying Yu

Cai Guo-Qiang White Tone (2016).
Photo: Photo: Wen-You Cai

“When you ignite the gunpowder fuse it makes this sizzling noise and everything blows up,” Cai told Motherboard in 2013. “That’s when the drawing is closest to you. All the rhythm, the heat, is very close to you,” the artist explained. “That is why it’s very personal, very physical.”

According to the artist’s website, his technique draws “upon Eastern philosophy and contemporary social issues as a conceptual basis […] These projects and events aim to establish an exchange between viewers and the larger universe around them, utilizing a site-specific approach to culture and history.”

Cai Guo-Qiang igniting gunpowder drawing White Tone, in Brookhaven, New York, 2016. Photo: Chiaying Yu

Cai Guo-Qiang igniting gunpowder drawing White Tone, in Brookhaven, New York, 2016.
Photo: Chiaying Yu

The artist previously made headlines for his contribution to the fireworks display at the stunning opening of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and more recently for the success of his explosive artwork Sky Ladder, in which a flaming ladder seems to miraculously float above the earth.


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