Yuko Hasegawa


Cai Guo Qiang


Venue : Setagaya Art Museum



Organization : Setagaya Art Museum,Co-organized by the Japan Foundation

I first saw Cai's work in 1991 at the time of the Persian Gulf War. An exhibition of conceptual drawings made with gunpowder, it was entitled Primeval Fireball. One of the works included was Rebuilding the Berlin Wall: Project for Extraterrestrials No. 7, 1991, in which the Berlin Wall was recreated in light and smoke for a period of twenty-eight seconds with the use of a 2800-metre blasting fuse. This exhibition reminded me, by way of contrast, of a large Anselm Kiefer exhibition I had just seen in Berlin. In the National Gallery, not far from the ruins of the Berlin Wall, Kiefer had made a massive monument by piling up objects suggestive of death and destruction: women's hair, children's clothing, shards of glass, earth, lead airplanes and so forth.

Kiefer's approach was to make an actual, material wall in a different form and away from the original location, as a symbol of the German people's grief and anguish. In contrast to this, Cai reproduced the now non-existent wall by non-material means, searing it into people's memories. According to Cai,

Even though the material wall which separated East and West Berlin for 28 years has been removed, there are still innumerable walls being built within people's minds throughout the world. The wall [of light which appears momentarily] suggests the existence of the walls in people's minds which needed to be breached.

These words contrast with a statement made by Joseph Beuys when he proposed building the Berlin Wall five centimetres further out (to achieve better proportions).

First of all, the wall had to be overcome by me and for me. Within my heart there had never been such a thing as a wall. That was my motto ... This sort of wall is not that important. It is better not to say too much about the wall. Educate yourself to cultivate a better morality for the human race. If you do, all walls can be overcome.

These words of Beuys operate on an intellectual level under the rules of Logos, overcoming (destroying) the actual wall with metaphysical thought. Cai, on the other hand, moves chi, the vital force of the universe, with explosions and makes an appeal to the senses. He says, 'The wall will never disappear because it is a part of you'.

Cai's thinking is based on three basic concepts: zheng ti guan (grasping the whole), giu ben guan (going beyond the surface to find the essence of things) and diao ping guan (maintaining balance). His works go inside the viewer, break down conventional systems, and produce chaos, releasing the potential energy of life. In 1986, at age twenty-nine, the artist left China in search of a place where he could work freely and began to carry out his artistic experiments.

Excerpt from "New order out of chaos" - Yuko Hasegawa