Cai Guo-Qiang: Falling Back to Earth

An artist’s work I have been able to view at the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane on a recent trip in February is Cai Guo-Quang. These large-scale installations were dramatic and impressive, spectacular and meditative. Realistic in representation these works contained the qualities of metaphor and symbolism; including cycles of life, and relationships of people and animals to the earth and to one another. Encountering the works apart from the overwhelming scale I experienced a sense of simplicity and depth of meaning.  As a student of visual art I came to the work with questions.  What were the main themes of the work and how effective were the methods, strategies and medium employed by the artist.  There were three main works.   Heritage (2013)  features 99 replicas of animals from around the world, gathered together to drink from a blue lake surrounded by pristine white sand, reminiscent of the lakes of Moreton Bay’s islands.  The second installation, Eucalyptus (2013) responds to the ancient trees of Lamington National Park in the Gold Coast hinterland, while the third — Head On (2006) — is a striking installation of 99 artificial wolves leaping en masse into a glass wall.



    Cai Guo-Qiang, b.1957 China Installation view of Heritage (2013)  Commissioned for ‘Cai Guo-Qiang: Falling Back to Earth’, Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, 2013 Collection: Queensland Art Gallery


cai guo-qiang, china b.1957 eucalyptus (2013) [spotted gum (corymbia maculata), wooden stools, paper and pencils; length: 3150cm (approx.)] commissioned for the exhibition ‘falling back to earth’, 2013 photograph by natasha harth, queensland art gallery | gallery of modern art


cai guo-qiang, china b.1957 head on( 2006) [99 life-sized replicas of wolves and glass wall. wolves: gauze, resin, and hide; dimensions variable] deutsche bank collection, commissioned by deutsche bank ag photograph by natasha harth, queensland art gallery | gallery of modern art


I think the ideas presented were effectively conveyed not least because the presentation was simple in format, circular pattern, uniformity of action by the subjects in Heritage (2013) and uniformity of subject  in Head on (2006).  The use of circular provided a strong link for the works to one another and a strong visual cue to the notion of cycles.  At first I was distracted with the sheer scale of the work and then by my curiosity of the construction of the animals, but after that I began to look at the overall view allowing space for an inter-subjective exchange.   Head on was the strongest work for me due to the dynamic qualities of the work, the height and scale and the animated and contorted figures presented in the wolves.  The use of surreal imagery and metaphor I think creates a sense of folklore narrative and evokes a mystical quality in the work.  Whereas in Heritage while I enjoyed the presence and presentation of the animals,  and the metaphorical reference, the white sand and water wasn’t as convincing appearing to me ‘fake’ and plastic for me off-putting.  I would have liked to have seen this aspect handled in a different way so as to support the more genuine sense of nature presented in both Head on and Eucalyptus.  I also think that this work through subtle changes could have been pushed further to embody additional qualities that would provide greater depth and resonance in the way that Head on does so well.



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