Select Language: English German Italian


· Archive
· Contact
· History
· Impressum
· Links
· Literature
· Search

A model house turns into a volcanic model - Cai Guo-Qiang
What is a volcano? Everyone blessed with a more or less good educational background immediately associates it with a tapered rise in a flat landscape, whose upper vent gives way to a temporary cracking, spitting and fuming. The Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI), yet this term belongs to scientific education, serves as the measurement of such volcanic activities ranging on a scale from 0 to 8. There is no need to measure anything beyond it because a VEI of 8 does already involve effects of global climate and the elimination of entire genera.

It rarely happens that an index of 8 is registered for the conic type. This is more likely for the deeper situated, giant volcanic bowls. With the aid of satellite photos, these were just recently identified as volcanoes in the first place and due to their dimensions called super-volcanoes. An example for this climate changing group is the Yellowstone Caldera in the USA, also known as a national park which, giving credence to geologists, is expected to erupt again some time soon.

Therefore, additionally to the most explosive armory of the world, the superpower USA also possesses an incredible magma store. In near future this beneath-and-inner threat will rapidly scatter large parts of the USA in a natural way. And exactly in this superpower's volcanic landscape lives the artist Cai Guo-Qiang . Born to the country which is said to have invented the black gun powder, even if the cliche of the first bang taking place in the Middle Kingdom can be heavily doubted, he is naturally interested in the explosive forces of art. Within 20 years his dynamitic performances, installations, large-sized sculptures and series of paintings, called Gunpowder or Explosion Paintings, blew him up from China to Tokio and finally to New York from where he entered the top of the international art scene.

But what does that have to do with volcanoes? They were the first blasters on our planet, and through their divine but natural explosive forces they illustrated all the prophecies where fire is pouring down from above. According to a theory, the human species was almost wiped out even 74.000 years ago caused by the last eruption of a further super-volcano, the Indonesian Toba-See.

This means that blastings as consequence of volcanic eruptions have to be the archetype of every explosion (excluding the successful impacts on earth from space), and that we therefore paradigmatically compare every other blasting with the volcanic archetype as well. For more than 60 years we are able to create wonderful mushroom clouds but volcanoes erupt much more variable and therefore inspiring. Maybe we simply had to specialize in the very precise destruction of as much as possible through blastings to free ourselves from the dependence on explosions of volcanic origin? The conquest of fire, caused by the loss of fear of it, was followed by the conquest of blasting.

Yet, there is a small group of people, among them artists like Roman Signer, who were able to separate the poetry of the blasting spectacle from its tragic destructive potential. Rather they turned it into an inspiration which also led our ancestors to an idolization of the blasting mountain's forces and to a life in its dangerous vicinity. This is the only way to explain the derivation of the word VOLCANO from the Indo-Germanic VASU, which describes a mountain or a house of fire, an expression that refers to a gentle understanding. Particularly as our ancestors preferred to settle close to these mountain houses of fire, they copied their archetypal tent-like shape in such a way that even from a far distance the fire holding hut, the smoking tent, the glowing house signalizes the unity of man and fire to this day. Where fire is, that's where a house is, a home, a place where we feel at home. People were born and died in the familiar light of fire, it had been man's first and last light of day. The fire that was used and understood by our ancestors this way was the sign of life and center of human existence. A house without a fire had not been a real house, rather a barn. Nowadays we live in houses supplied by district heating and cold electric light but without burning fire. Yet we do not live in barns any longer, we live in fire-free houses which can therefore only be called sick houses or hospitals.

Despite the fact that these aspects are unknown to Cai Guo-Qiang, he admits in a confidential talk that, on the occasion of his exhibition "Head On" from August 26th to October 15th, 2006 in the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin, a specially constructed model house serves him as model for a volcanic eruption by means of pyrotechnics demonstrating the procession of fire from the primeval space of human existence along with the blazing extinction of house and man. This work has to be recognized as a quotation of the volcanic archetype of blasting, along with the illustrating pyrotechnics of the lightning procession of fire from this house, along with the inflaming of the fire-free house caused through it, because if there is no more fire in the house, the house cannot be called a house any longer. Therefore it finally has to extinguish in a house fire. The condensed version of this, is the following: Man without fire is no longer a man, does not need a house anymore, will become inhuman in a house without fire, will burn out along with his house caused by the burn-out syndrome.

On the basis of the artist's reference to the history of Berlin, Cai Guo-Qiang's homework is additionally growing into an allegory of an urban volcano called Berlin. This interpretation is only possible, if we can vulcanize, that during World War II Berlin erupted a vast number of bombs far into European territory and that their energies returned shortly after, bombing the town itself out into a crater. To prevent further eruptions from the Eastern part of Berlin, the entire Western part was given a crater rim in form of a fire wall - and this wall, on the other hand, most probably encouraged the inhabitants to elect Berlin to the European town with the most damaging fire raisings and so on ...

The erupting homework, the disappearance of the sick house in technically optimized urbanity, the realization of Cai Guo-Qiang's work in the "Capital of Arsonists" (quotation of a criminologist convention in Berlin) is a fantastic work in the category volcano and fire and man and house and art and Berlin, titled by him and now projected in the exhibition as a revised video record with the title Illusion II. Unfortunately, the conception of this work is detracted by the firemen's early firefighting of the still burning model house, as well as by the non-presentation of the house's charred, burned remnants which could have been presented in an exhibition belonging to the company with Berlin's most ashes.

In 1991 Cai Guo-Qiang had already made an outline for a work on the subject of volcano and art. This conception called Sakurajima Volcano Time/Space Reversion Project has not been realized until now but intends to unite crater (elevation of approximately 1,100 meters above sea level) and sub-oceanic ground of the active, Japanese volcano Sakurajima through a water-resistant fuse which is lightened at the seabed first and then, for a brief moment, visualizes a lava that arises from the sea, crawls over the slope and flows back into the crater.

However, the second work Vortex (see the illustration) presented at the exhibition clearly shows an American-volcanic reference because Cai Guo-Qiang placed an oval mix of materials, that was then directly lightened in the exhibition area of the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin, onto white rice paper with the dimension 4 times 9 meters (see the illustration). Don't we look at a representation of the upcoming super-volcanic archetype of the erupting Yellowstone Caldera? And afterwards, don't remain yellow fractals between the soot-blackened ones on the rice paper, so that this is really about the anticipation of a changing landscape in the USA after the eruption of the Yellowstone?

Cai Guo-Qiang's works with fire are documented in numerous books, catalogues and video/ films. A variety of multimedia works, whose outstanding features are their space and time specific authenticity when both risks can be felt in them, originate from his "volcanic" production. On the one hand the risk of the fire whose effects can never be controlled a 100 percent, what a blasting can do especially lightening. On the other hand the risk of the public reception, provoked by the impossibility to rehearsal the creation of art in a unique specification of space and time under uncontrollable influences of weather, view of the public, and knowledge - whatever it is, it has to be lightened to art, here and now.

This is why the third exhibit Head on seems to be so harmless, like the specially for this purpose produced life-sized wolf models in sheepskin which remind us rather of a ball of wolves than of a pack of 99 shredding wolf machines.

Cai Guo-Qiang almost entirely works large-dimensional, creates Head on which do not necessarily go along with an increasing artistic value. This is the reason why people, who lack sound knowledge in the historico-cultural field of fire and volcano, carelessly accuse him of straining for effects. Nevertheless we warmly recommend to give very serious thought to the volcanic power of his oeuvre.

Author: Karawahn
Translation: Theresia Fasinski

Making of Vortex 2006
Foto © Hiro Ihara / Cai Studio

Vortex 2006
Gunpowder on Paper 9 x 4 m
Foto © Hiro Ihara / Cai Studio

Illusion II: Explosion Project
9.30 pm, July 11, 2006
Berlin, Germany
Foto © Hiro Ihara / Cai Studio

catalogue available "Cai Guo-Qiang: Head On" (german/english)

further informations
Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin


All logos and trademarks in this site are property of their respective owner. The comments are property of their posters, all the rest © 2005 by volcanism in the arts
You can syndicate our news using the file backend.php or ultramode.txt