Cai Guo-Qiang, originally from the Fujian Province in China and now living in New York, is one of the most celebrated artists on the international scene. He has participated in major exhibitions around the world and was recipient of the Golden Lion International Prize at the 1999 Venice Biennale. Cai Guo-Qiang is celebrated for both his outdoor public projects using components as varied as fire, dynamite, kites and jacuzzi baths, as well as for his elegant gallery installations incorporating gunpowder on paper, rocks, found objects and medicinal herbs. The Contemporary Art Gallery, the Charles H. Scott Gallery, and the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden collaborated with Cai Guo-Qiang on three projects conceived specifically for each venue.
The Contemporary Art Gallery exhibition was the culmination of a three day performance held at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden. This garden is the first full-scale classical Chinese garden constructed outside of China and it features numerous miniaturized landscape elements including a pavilion-crowned artificial mountain in the main courtyard. Cai Guo-Qiang exaggerated the scale of this mountain and the garden by installing fog machines to create a misty landscape that was the subject matter for three acclaimed ink-brush painters – Charles Liu from Chicago, Yu Long from Delta, and Cynthia Wu from Coquitlam.
In China, it is customary for artists to use garden constructions or miniature sculptures as source material for painted landscapes, an approach vastly different to that of the West. Ink-brush painting of the landscape has a highly sophisticated history extending back to the 13th Century and is based on principles developed by philosophical literati. The theatrical presentation of the process of painting a landscape in the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden project amplifies these processes by turning them into a performance that applies traditional Chinese concepts about art to contemporary Western ones.
While this project explores the poetic and scholarly tradition of Chinese ink painting, it is also informed by performance art as it developed in the West, and Cai Guo-Qiang is interested in transforming traditional methodologies and philosophies into new possibilities for contemporary art. This performance and its resultant installation bring into play the relationship of society’s ideals and fantasies about nature, the meeting of Eastern and Western thought, and the ways representation of the landscape is perceived. Together, the paintings reveal interpretations of the same site by three different artists and illustrate not only that the actual landscape has been artificially constructed, but that its depiction is also an artificial construction. The large painting on the end wall was a collaboration by all three artists and melds together their distinct sensibilities into one monumental rendering based on memory of the previous three days.