Cai Guo-Qiang Explodes Fireworks Over VR Forbidden City
21 December 2020
The work was created for Cai's solo show, curated by Sir Simon Schama, at Beijing's Palace Museum.
Still for VR work Sleepwalking in the Forbidden City (2020). Courtesy Cai Studio.
Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang created a Virtual Reality (VR) fireworks display for his solo show Odyssey and Homecoming, continuing until 5 February 2021 at Beijing's Palace Museum.
Entitled Sleepwalking in the Forbidden City (2020), the work provides myriad views of daytime fireworks exploding over a model of the Forbidden City, where the Palace Museum is situated.
Clouds of colourful pigment fall through the sky and settle, transforming the viewers' surroundings. The aftermath becomes part of the work, just as Cai's 'gunpowder paintings', singed patterns resembling traditional Chinese ink paintings, are the remnants of carefully planned explosions on canvas.
'It's my first-time using VR as an artistic medium, and I hope to destabilise the sleek and flawless aesthetics commonly associated with works created by high technology, and to explore its capacity to evoke raw emotions,' Cai said.
Beijing banned the use of fireworks inside the city's Fifth Ring Road in 2017. While the VR work does feature video of real daytime fireworks, the footage was actually shot in Liuyang, Hunan province, where China's fireworks industry originated during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD).
That video was then added to the VR environment along with the model of the Forbidden City, which Cai spent five months sculpting. It was realised in alabaster by the Quanzhou Xinwen Craft company in Fujian, where Cai was born in 1957.
Sleepwalking in the Forbidden City was created in partnership with HTC VIVE Arts. The VIVE is the VR headset developed by Taiwanese consumer electronics company HTC.
Odyssey and Homecoming encompasses 180 works curated by Sir Simon Schama, Columbia University Professor of History and Art History, and host of the BBC's The Power of Art.
Other works in the exhibition include early paintings and large format works such as Colour Gunpowder Drawing for City of Flowers in the Sky (2018) and Flow (Cypress) (2019).
At the opening of the exhibition, Schama quoted writer E. M. Forster's imperative, 'only connect!'
'This show is all about that,' he said. 'It makes connections, and with our connections, with all our trials, with all our turmoils, with all our sense of how difficult life is in all sorts of ways these days, we take a leap of faith into all those glorious connections that the genius of Cai Guo-Qiang has made available to us.' —[O]