Connecting the Earth to the Universe
The enduring tropes that color and line are independent elements of art, or that anyone still cares about them, are upended by the explosive works of Cai Guo-Qiang. Watching the recently released documentary on Cai (thank you Netflix) is transfixing. Although the film, by Wendi Murdoch, focuses on difficulty of pulling off Sky Ladder, more compelling is the accrual of his work over time.
Like Christo, Cai seems compelled to orchestrate project on a massive scale; for both, their most powerful work depends on its ephemeral nature. Although wildly more dramatic in presentation (he uses gunpower, after alll), Cai's works are also deeply meditative--about life, about our place in the universe, about time's passage.
"I want to connect the earth to the universe," he says of Sky Ladder. This is also what Cai achieves in part in Elegy: Explosion Event for the Opening of Cai Guo-Qiang: The Ninth Wave. Watching excerpts from the work in the documentary evoke Edmund Burke's notions of the sublime. As the work unfolds, the explosions seem to effortlessly fling smoke and pigment into the air, where they hover and drift. They stand in opposition to traditional firework displays, which prize clarity, brilliance and precision.
Although fleeting, Elegy surely stands as one of the most assured contemporary testaments to the power of color.