[Documentary] Cai Guo-Qiang and da Vinci: painting with Gunpowder


Gunpowder was invented in China, and evolved into something like a rocket during the ancient Song Dynasty, in other words, into a weapon. It was used in Europe too, breaking fortresses of the Middle Ages. The invention and discovery of gunpowder enabled many achievements of great significance in human history and also caused many disasters against humankind. For me, gunpowder has brought forth so much inspiration, and also exposes me to one challenge after another. For decades, I have been applying gunpowder on my canvas-based creations, or making drawings in the sky. For different times, spaces and historical sites, I will come up with different times for ignition. After the 9/11 bombings in 2001, we approached the New York mayor and persuaded him to allow me to create a rainbow using fireworks on the East River in New York. In 2008, I created black daytime fireworks for the Hiroshima Art Prize. Therefore, gunpowder is used not only in arts and for a society. It also bears some special significance in political terms. Gunpowder is a self-driven, unpredictable and uncontrollable medium. The more you want to control it, the less you will be able to. It is never possible to predict the outcome of a creation. Which is the most charming part, indeed. In my eyes, gunpowder encompasses the power of the universe. The origin of humankind, the origin of the universe – chaos theory is derived from the original explosion. Leonardo da Vinci had a piercing eye and designed an array of new devices and clever methods to explore nature and that blur the border between arts and science, and the border between reality and imagination. From his inventions and creations, I can see his thinking, thoughts and passions. It impressed me that whatever his age, Da Vinci still cherished much curiosity and also pursued liberty like a child. That way, he kept his prodigious imagination. I am just like a little boy, love playing with fire, love losing control, love being laid-back and love surprises. There is some hair on the foot here. Wow, what a nice drawing. Very sensual. As to Da Vinci, personally, what impressed me more are the doodles in his sketchbooks. His drawings covered many things, from the human body to male genitals which he drew readily. All reflected his prodigious imagination and his curiosity is that of a little boy. I took in the essence of Da Vinci’s silverpoint drawings, and was inspired. With the images of his manuscripts, I used a blade to draw their many lines, and then exploded the canvas enabling the energy and smoke of gunpowder to penetrate the seams, and enter the canvas. In a way I am saluting him as a literal-minded predecessor with a wild imagination. In the daytime, gunpowder is quite ambivalent. It does not rely on light. It relies entirely on coloring. Yes, it relies on pigments and smoke. The thing is how to make materials more environmentally friendly. Sometimes you have to make it happen. You may need many leaves, intersecting each other, for example, you can make one flower surrounded by a dozen leaves, which makes viewers believe there are many other flowers ready to bloom. Just one flower in bloom. Otherwise, it will appear like one flower in one place, and you will need too many flowers. You know what I mean. There will be many leaves, running from left to right. An eyeful of leaves, only one flower in bloom… now that is nice. When I light a fire, when the flames go blaring, there will be a palpitation prior to the explosion. Wow, the stop, and the sudden climax never fail to make me associate gunpowder with sex.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *