Pyrotechnics as art

Sometimes art works, sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes plans for works seem more complete than the finished work.  These are things to consider when we watch the video of “Explosion Event.”  Also ask yourself:  What do you expect to see when you hear about a holiday tree “exploding”?  Are you judging the event based on what’s possible in computer games or Hollywood?  Keep the materials in mind here, as well as the things one can’t plan for, such as the wind!

The artist, Cai Guo-Qing, is the last artist discussed in Janson (8th ed.).  Read this (p. 1106) before reading the articles and watching the video, then enjoy the video.

Here’s a link to the article in the Washington Post  (November 29, 2012);  be sure to watch the video of the event.

Here’s some background on the Sackler Museum and the artist…follow the links for more on the artist.

17 thoughts on “Pyrotechnics as art

  1. Connor Chilton

    After reading about Cai Guo-Qiang in Janson, I thought it was very interesting how he not only used fireworks as art, but that he would draw on paper with gunpowder and then ignite it. His description of explosions as liberating was a very unique position to take. When I saw the title for this video, I did not expect it to just smoke. I thought there was going to be a large explosion, probably based off of similar things I haves seen in movies.

  2. Sarah Speacht

    After watching this video, I feel like Cai Guo-Quiang ,instead of focusing on the explosives in the tree, he focused on the smoke that formed. With each explosion the smoke seemed to take on a life of its own. Instead of being captivated by the sudden explosions, I was more intrigued with the unique smoky black forms.
    After reading about Cai Guo-Quiang in our textbook, I find it amazing how he works with fireworks to create art. With each explosion he must spend a great deal of time making sure his pieces come out perfectly.

  3. Robbie O'Donnell

    I was at first confused by the preface you gave in your blog to both the article and the video; but after reading the article and viewing the video it all made more sense. It is amazing that Guo-Qiang could make that all up in his head without even putting it down on paper like a traditional artist. That is what makes his shows so interesting, that he can put on this beautiful display of dazzling fireworks and smoke and that he will of only done it once with no real practice or vision except the ones that he designs in his head.

  4. Tommy Ferrier

    I was surprised by this medium! But after what I’ve read it makes a lot of sense! I like this particular piece because it combines several themes often visited by this artist. This piece specifically seems transformative, from a common natural thing going through sudden startling climax, and then to something that has been altered. Guo-Qiang says at the end, “now it looks like a Chinese ink drawing”. Clearly he is emphasizing how this tree became something greater, more elegant and striking by going through this dramatic, traumatizing event. I always knew pyrotechnics had quite a presence but this artists harness that big impact to really get ideas across.

  5. Thomblina Mills

    I was surprised after watching this video because I expected the fireworks to be in the sky, not the tree but it was still very nice. In Janson there was a picture of his fireworks in the sky that I really enjoyed. I was shocked that the tree didn’t catch on fire but I liked how when the smoke cleared, it still kept the shape of the tree. When the third wave of fireworks went off the smoke went straight up and it was as if the tree was going into heaven. Until seeing this, I had never thought of fireworks as art.

  6. Emily Mercer

    I find this art interesting. I never considered fireworks art but this shows how you can take anything and make art from it. What I find interesting is that the art will never be the same. Weather conditions will effect it differently every time.

  7. Dominic Morra

    Cai-Guo Qiang is as orginial and unique as they come! His imagination is brilliant and it shows in his art work. After reading the title I was also eagar to see what the video had instore for us, and it was art. My favorite part of the video is the smoke rising in the air shaped like a christmas tree. How an indiviudal thinks to do something like this amazes me. Cai-Guo Qiang is to gun powder as picasso is to abstract.

  8. Kevin Allen

    After reading the article and watching the video i was expecting a little more in terms of a show. The tree explosion seemed sort of primitive. It fell into that category of art which you spoke on in class, how people see certain things that don’t seem to have much thought or workmanship put in them (splashing of paint on a canvas or putting a bicycle wheel on top of a table). This work had that same feel, something that a non artistic person could come up with. I’m sure the task of putting all those fireworks on the tree was tedious and deserves recognition but the means and steps taken to create a work of art shouldn’t outweigh the finished product. It was cool to look at nonetheless.

  9. Tanner Roe

    Cai Guo-Qiang’s work is probably the most unique that I have learned about in Janson. For one to think of using fireworks as something other than entertainment suggests a creative mind. When I first heard of the art form I considered it lazy and easy way to call yourself an artist. When reading on about it I realized that it was more than setting off explosives. Cai Guo-Qiang carefully planned out his work by making drawings before hand which he would ignite. In his christmas tree work I especially liked how when the explosives went off in the christmas tree the smoke took on the shape of the tree. Cai Guo-Qiang has shocked me with his art form and opened my mind to different styles of art.

  10. Jack Hamilton

    I was confused and curious to see what the video was going to be about after the preface, but the video showed extremely creative art. Cai Guo-Qiang was brilliant because he used fireworks which, made smoke, to create a unique type of artwork. My first impression was that the artwork was super basic and simple, but after seeing the smoke hug to the tree and almost shadow the tree, I had appreciation for the work. The smoke from the fireworks can give off many different meanings. One viewer can see the artwork and think that the tree is on fire, one can see the smoke as a late evening fog, and one can see the tree as evil. The creative art form leaves viewers with many different interpretations. It is fun to compare your interpretations with others because it can tell you alot about how a person thinks and their personality. Cai Guo-Qiang created a different style of art and I enjoyed learning about his works.

  11. Matthew Carlsson

    I’ve never heard of pyrotechnics being used in this way. I really like how Qiang orchestrated it. The way the smoke formed around the tree was great. I think that Jack has a good interpretation of the show. It made me picture the tree being malevolent and on fire. I hope to see more of Qiang’s work on the blog.

  12. Jessica L. Coles

    • Cai Guo-Qing is an artist, according to Janson (8th Edition), who is well known for his work involving gun powder. He is known for giving firework shows for the start of the Olympics as well as for his drawing with gunpowder and then setting it ablaze creating marvelous mentally everlasting works. Guo-Qing relates the experience to “feeling something intense at the very core of your being because, while you can arrange explosives as you please, you cannot control the explosion itself. And this fills you with a great deal of freedom.” With the igniting of the tree at Freer Gallery is a perfect example of how even when art does not turn in the direction originally planned does not mean that the actual end composition is not as good. The event was to mark the Sackler Gallery’s 25th anniversary. A statement taken from the Washington Post quotes Guo-Qing as saying “I’m imagining that after the explosion, the smoke tree will look like a virtual. I’m hoping it will look like an ink painting.” Having never previously executed this before so the end result was mainly determined on the cooperation of the wind. If things were to not go right only thick black clouds of smoke would be produced which looks like that is what had happened. Because it not go as planned the artist then entitled the event “Black Christmas Tree” which was blown out of proportion in some aspects calling it a war on Christmas which was not at all the direction the artist was going.

  13. Gabrielle Lindemann

    I have always been fascinated with fireworks. Every time I go to Disney World and see the magic they create with their fireworks shows in Magic Kingdom and Epcot, I think about the fireworks not just as a spectacle but as an art form – especially when you think about how they can connect the fireworks to music and other visual effects such as lighting and waterworks (and the giant Epcot globe). You can really create beauty from fireworks, and I think that’s a really unique form of beauty because it’s so fleeting; it’s not something that can be contained in a museum for hundreds of years, it’s going to happen in split second and then the smoke drifts away on the wind. When I read that Cai Guo-Qiang would be exploding a Christmas tree, I immediately conjured up a visual of the tree exploding into a million pieces or skyrocketing up into the sky, and so I was surprised by the relatively small fireworks that flew up and down the tree. It really drew attention to the form of the tree in fire and smoke instead of destroying it like I imagined it would.

  14. Christopher Griffiths

    Cai Guo-Qing’s work was fascinating to read about in Janson, but in some ways, difficult to visualize. Generally, when I think of fireworks and explosions, I feel as if there is little you can do in terms of dynamic contrast, and I imagined creating a piece utilizing fireworks would be difficult. However, the video clarified Cai Guo-Qing’s work for me, in that it was more subtle than I expected, focusing on the smoke and the order that the fireworks went off in. Very interesting.

  15. Jessica Rolaf

    In my perspective, I really liked Cai Guo-Qing’s artwork in that it is different that the typical “Paintbrush and paper” method done by a artists while producing their artwork. The way in which the artist wisely drew out his ideas with gunpowder and then ignited his work is astonishing. The Christmas tree at Freer Gallery was interesting in the way the illustration of the smoke represented the image of the tree itself. I think the art of pyrotechnics is interesting and attracts many viewers in that it is different than the usual production of artwork.

  16. Renee Hilelson

    I find learning about contemporary artist and their work to be a very interesting way to spend my time. It is fascinating to see all the creative and innovative ways people express their passions and explore new ways of approaching art. Cai Guo-Qing work is the epitome of new age art. His use of pyrotechnics is brilliantly controlled to create a visual masterpiece. What I enjoy most about his work is that it only last for one moment in time. This speaks volumes about the message that he successfully conveys. However, he extends his art form so that other artist may use it for their creative expression, i.e. photographers. Allowing his art work to be captured in this light gives Qing the ability to capture that magical moment in time and opens the doors for other viewers to witness his mastery.

  17. Crisa Young

    As an artist, I can say working with dynamic elements as materials can truly be challenging. I can’t imagine how the unpredictability of fire would complicate successfully completing and managing my work, but it is absolutely true that sometimes it is just so out of your control, you just may not accomplish what you set out to make and have to accept that futility. This can happen and often does happen when working with light and film cameras, it is frustrating but often so much more rewarding when overcoming this difficult element in the artistic process.


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