Collected Works: Art
Fallen Blossoms: Explosion Project
by Cai Guo-Qiang
‘5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Fire!’ With the fanfare of a rocket launch, Cai Guo-Qiang’s flower firework was set alight at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The botanic offering burst into a white, lasting blaze before burning out, leaving only the ghost of its cobweb scaffold. Though fleeting, the installation was captured by camcorder footage, and the crowd’s trepidation and relief have now been preserved within YouTube’s grainy frame.
Nobody knew what to expect of a work whose medium was live fire, let loose in real time. This tension of unpredictability soon gave way to elation; gleeful laughter was heard as bud exploded into bloom. The floral scrawl was revealed, bright as neon, an anarchic embellishment adorning the museum’s grand, neoclassical façade. Amid the exhilaration, the work’s ephemerality offered observers a reflective moment of catharsis.
The spectacle was one of several works commissioned by the Philadelphia Museum in memory of its late director, Anne d’Harnoncourt, who had died suddenly the previous year. It serves both as a natural continuation of Cai’s practice, which often involves such incendiary materials, and as a eulogy, referencing traditional iconographies of mourning. The ultimate funereal wreath here also becomes an immense crematorial pyre.
As the dynamite boom is echoed by the respectful ‘gunpowder salutes’ of the finale, we are reminded of the notion that sound never dies, but rather resonates eternally in diffusion. Cai’s work lives on in various extant guises, from photographs to videos, all rougher and smaller-scale. Falling Blossoms is a fitting tribute to d’Harnoncourt’s legacy, a spark ignited by an artist whose oeuvre she helped to kindle.
Words by Elizabeth Brown