Cai Guo-Qiang’s 1650-Foot Flaming ‘Sky Ladder’ Finally Succeeds

Cai Guo-Qiang, Sky Ladder, realized at Huiyu Island Harbour, Quanzhou, Fujian, June 15, 2015 at 4:49 am, approximately 2 minutes and 30 seconds. Photo: Lin Yi, courtesy Cai Studio.
Cai Guo-Qiang, Sky Ladder, realized at Huiyu Island Harbour, Quanzhou, Fujian, June 15, 2015 at 4:49 am, approximately 2 minutes and 30 seconds. Photo: Lin Yi, courtesy Cai Studio.

It took 21 years, but Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang has finally brought to life his dramatic Sky Ladder, an explosive artwork in which a flaming ladder seems to miraculously float above the earth.

One of several artist known for exploring fireworks as an art medium, Cai was also responsible for the pyrotechnic display that marked the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

The artist actually built the fiery ladder to the heavens back in June, but only uploaded the video of the stunning work to YouTube this week, where it quickly caught fire online. Now a viral sensation, the artwork was a gift to Cai’s grandmother, who just turned a venerable 100 years old, and to the rest of his family and hometown of Quanzhou, China.

Cai Guo-Qiang, Sky Ladder, realized at Huiyu Island Harbour, Quanzhou, Fujian, June 15, 2015 at 4:49 am, approximately 2 minutes and 30 seconds. Photo: Lin Yi, courtesy Cai Studio.

Cai Guo-Qiang, Sky Ladder, realized at Huiyu Island Harbour, Quanzhou, Fujian, June 15, 2015 at 4:49 am, approximately 2 minutes and 30 seconds.
Photo: Lin Yi, courtesy Cai Studio.

The piece was created using metal wire and aluminum, lifted aloft by a weather balloon, and filled with gun powder.

“Behind Sky Ladder lies a clear childhood dream of mine,” said Cai about the work in a press release. “I have always been determined to realize it.”

He first attempted the Sky Ladder in 1994, but was hindered by strong winds. A second effort in 2001 failed to leave the ground due to post-9/11 flight restrictions. Shortly before the planned Shanghai launch, Cai was warned that “any flying object…would be automatically shot down with missiles, with no exceptions.”

Cai Guo-Qiang watching Sky Ladder. Photo: Wen-You Cai, courtesy Cai Studio.

Cai Guo-Qiang watching Sky Ladder.
Photo: Wen-You Cai, courtesy Cai Studio.

The piece finally came to fruition on June 15, with golden flames racing up the base of the ladder, the fireworks along the suspended structure exploding for a total of 150 seconds.

“In contrast to my other attempts, which set the ignition time at dusk, this time the ladder rose toward the morning sun, carrying hope,” said Cai. “For me, this not only means a return but also the start of a new journey.”

 

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