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Cai Guo-Qiang Attends the Cartier Art Dialogues at the Louvre Museum in Paris

Outside of the Louvre Museum in Paris, 2022. Photo by Cai Guo-Qiang
Cartier Art Dialogues held at the Louvre Museum, 2022. Photo by Yijie Zhang
On May 16th 2022, Cartier held the second edition of its Cartier Art Dialogues series at the Louvre Museum in Paris. The theme of this new chapter, “Beyond Boundaries,” was explored by talents from a variety of creative fields including music, cinema, architecture, gastronomy, performance art, and painting as well as representatives from leading international cultural institutions such as the President of the Centre Pompidou and the President-Director of the Louvre Museum. More than 450 students from a broad range of disciplines, including architecture, design, administration, commerce, and more, attended the event in person. The dialogue was broadcasted live to global audience (watch the replay here).
Participants discussed how ideas and works have circulated throughout time and space, resulting in cultural enrichment and new creative fusions, and how the influence of a stylistic movement can spread across all fields of artistic expression, in the same way that certain traditional techniques influence the work of contemporary artists. Panelists also exchanged thoughts on the concept of creativity, how it flows between real and imaginary worlds, where the inspiration of artists come from and how they shift between these parallel universes.
Cartier Art Dialogues, 2022. Photo by Sang Luo
Opening Words:
  • Laurence des Cars – President-Director of the Musée du Louvre
President-Director of the Louvre Museum, Laurence des Cars, speaking at the second edition of the Cartier Art Dialogues, 2022. Courtesy Cartier
  • Cyrille Vigneron – President and CEO, Cartier International
President and CEO of Cartier International, Cyrille Vigneron, speaking at the second edition of the Cartier Art Dialogues, 2022. Courtesy Cartier
Dialogue 1: Style influences across time and space, from the perspective of artists
  • Jérôme Sans – Art Critic & Moderator
  • Cai Guo-Qiang – Artist
  • Elizabeth Diller – Architect
  • Simone Menezes – Conductor
  • Mariane Ibrahim – Gallerist
From left to right: Jérôme Sans, Simone Menezes, Elizabeth Diller, Mariane Ibrahim, Cai Guo-Qiang, Sang Luo (interpreter), 2022. Courtesy Cartier
  • Amira Casar – Actress, Cartier Ambassador & Master of Ceremony
Actress and Cartier Ambassador, Amira Casar, speaking at the second edition of the Cartier Art Dialogues, 2022. Courtesy Cartier
Dialogue 2: Style influences across time and space, from the perspective of cultural institutions representatives
  • Nazanin Lankarani – Journalist, Consultant & Moderator
  • Laurent Le Bon – President, Centre Pompidou
  • Sophie Makariou – President, Musée National des Arts Asiatiques - Guimet
  • Souraya Noujaim - Scientific, Curatorial and Collections Management Director, Louvre Abu Dhabi
  • Pierre Rainero – Director of Heritage, Image and Style, Cartier
From left to right: Nazanin Lankarani, Sophie Makariou, Laurent Le Bon, Souraya Noujaim, Pierre Rainero, 2022. Courtesy Cartier
Excerpts from the conversation between Jérôme Sans (JS) and Cai
JS: I would like to start this debate with the key question of the relationship between local and global culture. Often ephemeral and monumental, your work reflects a religious, philosophical and aesthetic tradition that is thousands of years old, firmly rooted in the three spheres of Chinese thought: the sky, the earth and the human. How do you link these three dimensions in your work and translate such Chinese philosophical concepts in order to make them reach a universal scope and a resolutely contemporary, globalized audience?
Cai: I want to show everyone a short video, Sky Ladder, which reflects the concept of the unity of the the sky, the earth and the human.
Video Clip of Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang, 2016. A Netflix Documentary. (C) 2016 by Great Wall Star Media, LLC and DJM Holding Ltd.
[My work is] “Ephemeral yet monumental,” reflecting the immense energy behind the concept of “change.” My art is about change because change is the perpetual truth of the universe.
The I in “I-Ching,” known in English as the Book of Changes, translates to changes. This ancient Chinese text discusses changes in the universe and their deeper cosmological patterns. Therefore, the reason why I use gunpowder as my primary medium and explosion as my format is to embody changes in energy, time, and space.
I have believed in the unity of man and nature since I was a young boy. Across my artistic methodology, I have spent the most time and effort trying to express the unseen world through visible means. Scientists have hypothesized that 95% of the universe is composed of dark matter and dark energy, which influences the visible portion of the boundless universe.

Since my childhood, I have been influenced by the culture of feng shui, which, through the manipulation of unseen energy (qi) is able to create a sense of harmony and balance between the sky, the earth, and the human in our living environments.

Informed by feng shui, my site-specific artworks have been able to grasp the energy of a given space, or mobilize the energy of the space and those inhabiting the space through art.
The reason I believe my art has influenced and moved so many people all over the globe is because it engages the shared energy and empathy of mankind…
For example, in response to my explosion event Sky Ladder, a 500-meter long ladder that soared up into the sky, however spectacular and fleeting, people were not moved by the technical feat that allowed this 500-meter long ladder to ascend into the sky, but rather the sentiments around Sky Ladder, including my dialogue with the universe from my villagehometown, a village; the realization of my childhood dreams of touching the moon and the stars, and the warmth this work conveyed in its dedication to my 100-year-old grandmother just shortly before she passed away.

Cai Guo-Qiang, Sky Ladder, 2015. Explosion event realized off Huiyu Island, Quanzhou. Photo by Wen-You Cai, courtesy Cai Studio
Cai and his grandmother sharing stories, Quanzhou, 2011.
Photo by Hong Hong Wu, courtesy Cai Studio
In 2013, my exhibition Peasant Da Vincis traveled to Rio de Janeiro, attracting an estimated 1 million visitors and becoming the world’s most visited exhibition by a living artist that year! I believe that when visitors saw the inventions and free-spirited creations of these peasants, they sensed the true meaning of life and felt the emotions and yearnings shared amongst all human beings.
Chinese "Peasant da Vincis" with their inventions. Courtesy Cai Studio
Installation view of Cai Guo-Qiang: Da Vincis do Povo, Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, Rio de Janeiro, 2013. Photo by Joana França
The times will change, and art will of course change along with it, but human beings will always, despite all these changes, seek emotions, truths, and feelings of warmth…
JS: Your work is also based on encounters and collaboration, whether with a renowned geomancer in China, with a Taoist shaman from Sichuan or with connoisseurs of Feng Shui or Chinese pharmacopeia. How do these collaborations nourish your work, which is based on constellations of references and fields of varied and extra-artistic knowledge such as Chinese medicine, philosophy, cosmology from different civilizations, etc.?

Cai: In addition to museum curators, I like to collaborate with philosophers, feng shui masters, Chinese medicine practitioners, fashion designers, and architects, and scientists. I like to work on inter-disciplinary projects that inspire and challenge both parties and their respective disciplines.
Sometimes, when realizing projects in different cultural settings: in China, in Japan, in the US, even in Africa, the Arabic world, Latin America, and so forth, I ask shamans to help me pick the venue and the date, discussing my plans for the projects with them, and allowing some mysterious forces to participate in and guide my projects.
I think we cannot rely on art to solve art’s problems, but eventually, we need to come back to art to solve art’s problems. It is more fun to return to the origins after walking away or even getting lost on your journey!

Last fall, I traveled to Tibet where I met some monks. I brought back a number of natural Tibetan Buddhist pigments with me from my trip. Between a pane of glass and a mirror, my assistants and I meticulously reproduced the image of a Mandala using these natural materials and gunpowder, and then ignited it.
Cai Guo-Qiang with Nima Ciren, master monk in Tibet, 2021. Photo by Wen-You Cai, courtesy Cai Studio
Cai Guo-Qiang during the creation of gunpowder painting Return to Darkness, 2021. Photo by Sang Luo, courtesy Cai Studio
After the explosion, we were all taken aback! The vibrant image of the cosmos in Tibetan Buddhism had transformed into a silent and dark universe… According to a friend, [University of Chicago] Professor Daniel Holz: the work very accurately captures the initial stages of the universe, shortly after the Big Bang!
Ignition of gunpowder painting Return to Darkness, 2021.
Video by Sang Luo, courtesy Cai Studio
I have also done several NFT projects since last year. This year, I launched Your Daytime Fireworks, a collection of 7,000 Firework Packet NFTs, which has expanded my NFT community manifold.
In this project, firework packet collectors are tasked with judging the daily weather and local regulations, as prescribed by the “Cai-lendar” and determining when to set off their packet based on my previous daytime firework events that have taken place in various places around the globe under varying weather conditions…
In this way, the project allows the audience and collectors to participate in the creation process, experiencing the anxieties, accidents, and surprises of the artist…
Stills from Cai Guo-Qiang's NFT project Your Daytime Fireworks, 2022. 
Fan art of Cai Guo-Qiang's Your Daytime Fireworks, 2022.
This NFT research and my experiments in this space have led me into lots of conversations with experts on blockchain technology and video gaming as well as lots of the enthusiasts of the virtual world.
Perhaps they can help me further uncover the unseen world that has long fascinated me, especially under the impact of the global pandemic; the study of the concepts and forms of online art may be able to enrich my art practice in the real world. These last few days I have been thinking about taking the designs of the 90 digital daytime fireworks, including the-artistic responses by fans and collectors, into the real world to realize an art project that is inspired by NFTs and virtual worlds.

JS: You once said: “An artist should be like an alchemist using poison against poison, which is very much a philosophy from Chinese medicine.” What does this mean about your vision of the role of an artist in society?
Cai: “Using poison against poison” as you said, is particularly difficult to achieve in today’s art world, under the ubiquitous shadow of political correctness. Artists can be toxic, and artworks may reveal the toxicity of society because humans are flawed and toxic by nature. But if we cannot expose this kind of toxicity honestly and without hesitation, how might we attack it using poison?
Cai Guo-Qiang and Sang Luo (interpreter) at the Cartier Art Dialogues, 2022. Courtesy Cartier
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