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>> The Press on "The Art of Tomorrow" at Deutsche Guggenheim
>> Cai Guo-Qiang: A Chinese Art Star in New York

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Universal Design: Feng Shui Project for Mito Chang Sheng,
Mito, Japan, 1994

And there it is again – the crocodile. On the floor of the gigantic warehouse, the wooden panels covered in paper are spread out and covered with traces of sulfur, fuses, stencils – the contours of an alligator can be clearly discerned. Jennifer Ma explains the various explosives arranged in small containers on a wagon – coarse and fine gunpowder, breakfast cereals dipped in black powder. The explosion must not under any circumstances set the material on fire, otherwise the work will become destroyed. In order to prevent too much air from getting into the explosive, the paper surfaces are covered in cardboard and weighed down with stones. An hour passes, and then it's time. The fuse is ignited, and the contraption shoots up into the air with an ear-splitting bang. As the warehouse fills with smoke, Cai's assistants run to the picture, tear off the sheets covering it, and stamp the work with specially prepared pillows to extinguish the embers.

Cai Guo-Qiang prepares a Gunpowder Drawing
on the premises of the Grucci company, 2006, Photo: Maria Morais

The fire-born crocodile is held up, and it looks as though the reptile's mouth were exhaling poisonous clouds. Filigree traces of smoke lend the image the character of a refined watercolor; at the same time, it seems quite archaic, as though it had been branded into the earth's crust millennia ago. The sight of the crocodile image overwhelms one with an odd feeling of timelessness, of a lack of place. This feeling is further intensified when later, in the Grucci office, Italian Americans, German journalists, Chinese artists, and visiting Russian collectors cut a cake and begin singing Happy Birthday to Cai's wife. A choir comprised of a motley collection of cultures and backgrounds somewhere in the middle of Long Island, crooning a serenade that could also apply to an artificial crocodile: Happy Birthday!

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