Cai Guo-Qiang: The closing ceremony

Cai-Guo Qiang‘s Beijing Games: Sketches and Video had a super successful run throughout July and August with well over a thousand visitors from the island and beyond.

With an opening evening alongside the artist, the Bailiff and members of the Guernsey Community joining with the Guernsey Arts Commission and Art and Islands Foundation, the exhibition opened with bang!

We’ll keep you posted as and when Cai’s pan-island project develops and comes to fruition. It’s going to be big…

Footprints, 2008

For a round up of Cai’s visit, feast your eyes on the below. A great read from Kate McManus who shadowed Cai throughout his visit in the Channel Islands.

CM: Cai Guo-Qiang’s recent visit to the Channel Islands was always going to be a busy affair, with so much to see and do crammed into three short summer days. It began, almost immediately, with a Press reception in which he gave a fascinating interview to the Guernsey Evening Press. Drawing on his own personal history and early encounters with art, Cai gave an intriguing insight into the motives and influences behind his own artistic practice. The success of the Opening Ceremony for the Beijing Games was a hot talking point, as London’s own version was just around the corner. Rather prophetically, Cai insisted that London didn’t need to prove its grandeur and was instead looking forward to seeing Britain’s sense of humour and unique quirkiness – a wish that Danny Boyle would later grant to great acclaim.

That evening saw Cai’s exhibition, ‘Beijing Games: Sketches and Video’ officially opened by the Bailiff of Guernsey, Richard Collas. Eric Snell, the Founding Director of Arts and Islands, introduced Cai to the guests by fondly recalling his ‘stalking’ of Cai’s works for many years before his Channel Island visit came to fruition, having first met the artist at his exhibition in Bilbao in 2008. The lengthy pursuit of a collaboration with Cai had been necessary, Eric mused, as a way of proving the Foundation’s worth and earning the artist’s respect.

The night was an indisputable success as the greenhouse (“my smallest exhibition space”, Cai informed us, beaming, “in 20 years”) was filled with guests eager to admire the conceptual sketches and video of the 2008 Opening Ceremony. The intimate setting proved to be refreshing to an artist of such international praise as Cai, as he spoke of his enjoyment of being able to speak to the visitors and witness their reactions.

After the triumph of the exhibition’s opening, the next day was spent getting to know Guernsey in more detail and viewing some of the peculiarities which make it so special. The Island’s Museums Director, Dr Jason Monaghan, kindly gave a tour of The Story of Guernsey exhibition at Guernsey Museum, before a more practical ‘field trip’ exploring the sites of La Grandmere and Le Dehus dolman. These Neolithic works were of particular interest to Cai, as he expressed a wish to be able to understand how his own art has developed from the aesthetics of history. The Guernsey Tapestry and a guided tour of St. Peter Port imbued more local knowledge – Guernsey’s naval history and brushes with piracy were again aspects of interest to Cai, as they reminded him of the history of his home town.

The day’s highlight, however, was perhaps the tour of Castle Cornet. Cai was invited to fire the noon day gun – a task that, given his reputation with explosives, he was more than happy to undertake!

Cai’s visit was not, however, solely about Guernsey and so it was Herm Island’s balmy summer evening that acted as a wonderful backdrop to a dinner reception in honour of the artist. After a delightful celebration at The Ship Inn, Eric Snell revealed hopes for a pan-islands project to be realised with Cai in 2014. In a passionate and inspiring speech, he encouraged the recognition and celebration of our unique position as an island group and the need to take risks and establish new ways of artistic practice. In the future, why shouldn’t Cai’s project with the islands, he asked, have the same cultural importance to that of, say, Giotto’s frescoes in Padua? Guernsey’s Minister of Culture, Mike O’Hara, spoke with enthusiasm about the importance of supporting such a venture – of pushing boundaries, but most importantly of leaving a cultural legacy to pass on to further generations.

The days had passed in a flurry of exhibitions, tours and speeches and somehow the last day of Cai’s visit was upon us already. The morning was spent exploring Hauteville House under the kind guidance of Odile Blanchette, its Director. Fascinating though Victor Hugo’s history is, his works and design within the house itself were the undisputed marvels of the tour. Especially enthralled by the Eastern vein of influence that ran throughout the house, Cai also (due perhaps to a background in theatre and puppetry) admired its stage-like use of lighting, mirrors and secrecy. More recent and sombre aspects of the island’s history were explored with a tour of the German Military Underground Hospital – the Occupation of the Channel Islands being a period crucial to the understanding of the modern islands’ culture and landscape.

As Eric Snell had stressed at the reception the night before, any future project with Cai would require thinking on a scale larger than ever before and collaboration between the islands, he stated, would be key. Cai’s visit to the Channel Islands would not have been complete, then, without a stop at its largest island, Jersey. Albeit a rather whistle-stop tour, Cai was given a tour of Jersey Museum and formally greeted with a reception from the Bailiff, with the promise that Jersey was embracive of a pan-islands project.

The final evening and perhaps the culmination of his trip, Cai held a lecture at the Princess Royal Centre for Performing Arts. Grinningly, he warned the audience that his slideshow included over 300 images of past works, in a sort of quasi-exhibition catalogue. The following talk gave unprecedented access to information about his art practice in a captivating history of his life as an artist. It became clear why the Arts and Islands Foundation were so keen to collaborate with Cai: his artistic practice pushes the boundaries of what we might typically call ‘art’, often being created by hundreds – if not, thousands – of hands. Feeling an immense social responsibility, his works stimulate communities (both creatively and financially) and create a cultural discourse of which people can feel proud in having participated. It is easy to see why – when not collaborating with many participants – Cai has built up such a reputation with his explosive works: the lack of control in both methods can create unpredictable, surprising and refreshingly candid results.

Crucially, the audience seemed to be stirred by Cai’s words and many asked thought-provoking questions about what it means to leave an artistic legacy, the changing face of the gallery and the role of the artist in today’s society.

Typically, the arts have flourished in strong economic bases. Historically this has been the cities we know and admire – Florence, Paris, New York… But this is now the 21st century – could islands be the future of creative practice? Cai is pioneering a revolution in the way we understand art; we could be sat at the brink of a cultural renaissance in which our very own Channel Islands are the epicentre.

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