Artists Exhibitions News China

Chinese artist’s ark of sick animals pulls into Shanghai

Cai Guo-Qiang’s show at the Power Station of Art focuses on environmental issues

The Ninth Wave sailing on the Huangpu River by the Bund, Shanghai, 2014. Photo: JJY Photo, courtesy Cai Studio.

Few topics in China are more germane than environmental degradation, and Cai Guo-Qiang has jumped directly into the toxic waters with his new solo show “The Ninth Wave”, opening today at Shanghai’s state-owned Power Station of Art. “I wanted to focus on environmental issues, which are more and more critical in China, and influence how people think,” Cai told The Art Newspaper at a preview of the show on Thursday. “Art is not about social criticism, I do not want to preach to the public of China.”

Works include Silent Ink, a site specific lake of 250 sq. m excavated out of the museum floor and filled with 20,000 liters of black calligraphy ink. The work, which reflects equally on Chinese traditional landscape art, with an ink waterfall gushing down from the ceiling, as it does on water pollution and Chinese contemporary art’s commercialization, is an olfactory assault. The show’s titular piece, The Ninth Wave, a dilapidated barge carrying 99 taxidermied animals in various poses of sickness, was due to depart from the artist’s hometown of Quanzhou, Fujian Province and arrive along Shanghai’s Huangpu River, which last year was clogged with dumped pig carcasses. The Shanghai government, however, refused a permit for the final leg of the journey. “The boat came in anyway,” Cai shrugged, and is a centerpiece of the show.

Cai, who is based in New York, described his relationship with Chinese authorities as a game of “hide and seek”. For example, the artist originally wanted to title a daytime gunpowder explosion made for the opening Elegy, “but the government asked, can you make it more positive?” Cai said. “So I adapted, and changed it to Untitled, with the first act called Elegy.”

While he has managed to avoid controversy in China, it has found him in the US. His work for the opening of the Aspen Art Museum, Moving Ghost Town, has attracted accusations of animal cruelty for its use of live African tortoises, who first filmed footage of abandoned mining towns and now display them on iPads glued to their shells. “We were clear on how we used the tortoises, involving the Turtle Conservatory and working with a vet, and finding the least burdensome way to attach the iPads,” Cai explained. “It proves art is meaningful. I did not try to provoke controversy, but with interesting art comes points of view. For 100 people who get angry, there are 10,000 who like it.”

Cai Guo-Qiang at the launch of The Ninth Wave. Photo: JJY Photo, courtesy Cai Studio
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11 Aug 14
1:35 CET


The live tortoises with ipads is a disgrace. Please cancel your work immediately. Using live animals of sacred meaning to many people is wrong. It is also clearly wrong, in any event, to use live animals at your Aspen Collrado USA so called "art" exhibit. There is no respect here for the animals...the tortoises!!!

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