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Cai Guo-Qiang, Unmanned Nature

A spectacular installation in our new landscape gallery

Cai Guo-Qiang

Unmanned Nature. A spectacular installation in our new landscape gallery

This is a past exhibition which ran from 14 February to 21 June 2015.

The artist Cai Guo-Qiang was born in China and now lives in New York. He is best known for his remarkable projects using gunpowder, including the firework displays for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. His installation, Unmanned Nature (2008), which includes a 45 metre-long, four metre-high gunpowder drawing, is the first artwork to be shown in the Whitworth’s new landscape gallery. It is also the first time that the installation – first commissioned by the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art – has been shown outside Japan.

It is also the first showing of the installation anywhere in the world outside the Japanese city of Hiroshima – the work was originally commissioned by the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, and was shown in an exhibition that marked Cai Guo-Qiang’s designation as the recipient of the Seventh Hiroshima Art Prize. The prize is awarded every three years to an artist who has made the greatest contribution to peace in the field of art.

The process of making gunpowder drawings is extraordinary. After laying out large sheets of paper on the floor, Cai Guo-Qiang arranges gunpowder, fuses and cardboard stencils to create forms on the paper’s surface. The spontaneity of the resulting explosion, flames and fumes are controlled through the use of wooden boards, rocks and various other materials, which influence the impact of the explosions that create the final work. The landscape forms of Unmanned Nature reference 14th-century Chinese ink and wash paintings, while the scale of the encircling installation parallels Monet’s Water Lilies.

Cai Guo-Qiang’s work, with its readings of gunpowder not only as a weapon but also as a medium of spiritual creativity and transformation, is very timely as we commemorate the centenary of the First World War. His Unmanned Nature installation connects to an exhibition that ran earlier this year at our sister organisation in the city, Manchester Art Gallery. The Sensory War 1914-2014 explored how artists have interpreted and communicated the impact of war on the human senses, the body, mind and the wider environment over the last century.


Essays relating to the exhibition:

Fire and Water - Ben Tufnell

Firing Paper by Francesca Tarocco

News about Cai Guo-Qiang's exhibition:

The Guardian ‘Manchester United’s Juan Mata takes inspiration from Chinese artist.

Juan Mata’s blog post recommends a visit to see Cai Guo-Qiang.