Ashmolean Museum - Volatile Matter: Politics and Pyrotechnics in the Work of Cai Guo-Qiang

Activity: Talk or presentationInvited talk


Invited talk to coincide with the opening of the Cai Guo-Qiang exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum.

Volatile Matter: Politics and Pyrotechnics in the Work of Cai Guo-Qiang
This talk explores the cultural role of gunpowder in Cai Guo-Qiang’s work from a variety of art historical perspectives. While Cai has used and reused a wide range of materials throughout his career, from porcelain to plexiglass and arrows to oil paint, gunpowder remains at the core of his multifarious practice. Examining the artist’s long-term commitment to this volatile material, the talk traces the cultural and artistic connotations which have been ascribed to Cai’s ‘gunpowder works.’ Despite the artist’s consistent reference to destruction as a key methodology of his practice, and in contrast to its centrality in the critical reception of his works, the paper argues that Cai’s explosive artworks might more productively be understood in relation to their interpretive ambiguity. For even when gunpowder is detonated on silk, porcelain, and handmade paper, the artist’s carefully choreographed combustions not only de-stabilize these symbolically loaded materials but also leave equivocal afterimages in their wake. Establishing how Cai plays with the inherent versatility of gunpowder as a means to both suspend and question certain aspects of his own artistic identity, the talk traces the clashes of power, culture and identity engendered by global spaces of encounter.
24 Oct 2019

Event (Conference)

TitleCai Guo-Qiang: Gunpowder Art
Web address (URL)
LocationAshmolean Museum
CountryUnited Kingdom