Details
CAI GUO-QIANG
(Chinese, B. 1957)
Man, Eagle and Eye in the Sky: Eye-Kite Flying People
titled in Chinese; titled 'Eye-kite Flying People' in English; inscribed in English; dated '2003' (lower right)
gunpowder on paper mounted on wood, quadriptych
overall: 230 x 310 cm. (90 1/2 x 122 in.)
Executed in 2003
Literature
Albion/Michael Hue-Williams Fine Art Ltd., Cai Guo-Qiang: Man, Eagle and Eye in the Sky, London, UK, 2004 (illustrated, inside front cover & p. 137).

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Lot Essay

An artist who by traditional standard remains impossible to categorize, Cai Guo-qiang is one of the most inimitable personalities to appear in contemporary international art. He produces "gunpowder paintings" on Japanese paper, employing Chinese ink-wash techniques, adding a novel touch of his own that transforms smoke and gunpowder into creative media in an ingenious fusion of technology and art. The breadth of Cai's vision has taken him to locations all around the world, where both modern cities and ancient ruins of different cultures are transformed into sites for new creative projects. Cai is neither a representative nor an inheritor of any given aesthetic tradition, Eastern or Western; his goal is to transcend the cultural gap between East and West and past and present, to show viewers a vision of the vast arcs of time and space and help them see the world anew with an awareness of universal values. If viewed in terms of predefined categories, Cai's creative work combines elements of explosions, land art, installations, performance art, calligraphy, and conceptual art, but his forms possess vitality, creativity, and added levels of meaning far beyond the sum of those individual elements.

Exploring the Transcendental and Transformational Power of Art in a Social Context
In November 2003, Cai Guo-qiang produced the social project Man, Eagle, and Eye in the Sky at the Siwa Oasis, Egyptian Sahara Desert. The project was done in collaboration with over 600 schoolchildren from 40 schools throughout the Governate of Marsa Matruh and commissioned by Siwa Art Project, an organization that promotes Siwa's cultural heritage internationally in an ecologically sensitive manner. The interactive, community-based project utilizes 200 Chinese kites that are painted by the school children, flown in the desert skies and later exploded with gunpowder at the end of the five-day project.

Home to one of Egypt's most isolated settlements, the Siwan Oasis lies close to Libyan border, and is known for its conglomeration of mud-brick houses in old town Shali, its pristine sand dunes on the south, and the ancient Temple of Amun where Alexander the Great traversed across the Sahara desert to consult the temples' famed Oracle. Due to the rich history and pristine environment in Siwa, Cai was inspired to use kites as one of his medium.

From 1997 onwards, kites have become part of Cai's visual vocabulary, as a representation of a union between man and heaven, an interactive medium between viewers and the art, and object of the art that integrates and extends the spatial arrangements in his performance and installation pieces (Fig. 1). For the Siwan project, Cai used three emblematic motifs: Man, Eagle and Eye in the Sky."Man" signifies humankind as an agent of history; "Eagle" refers to Alexander the Great, who received an oracle in Siwa; and "Eye in the Sky" represents humankind's vision (Fig. 2).

Cai led painting workshops and painted 300 kites brought from Weifang, China, the city that hosts the annual Weifang International Kite Festival (Fig. 3). The colourfully painted kites demonstrated the imagination of the children who were involved. Some older boys helped fly the kites over the desert skies and over temple ruins and the mud-brick houses. At the end of the week, one hundred kites were strung together and linked with a gunpowder fuse, and exploded at sunset across the White Mountain, as the inhabitants of Siwa watched the explosion from 300 metres below (Fig. 4). Cai memorialized the project by creating a series of gunpowder drawings. The work that best displays Cai's unique creative concepts and achievements from this extraordinary series is Man, Eagle and Eye in the Sky: Eye- Kite Flying People (Lot 29) offered here in the Evening Sale.

The project demonstrates Cai as a transnational artist who constantly challenges the function and meaning of art within a wide socio-cultural context. As the curator Reiko Tomii puts it, "Man, Eagle, and Eye in the Sky best exemplifies the four most salient characteristics of Cai's social project: his exploration of the symbolic power of art in a social context; his profound interest in local history and culture and astute incorporation of them into a project; his active collaboration with the local people at all levels, from children to government officials; and his contribution, both cultural and economic, to the local community." (Guggenheim Museum Publications, Cai Guo-qiang - I Want To Believe, New York, USA, 2008, p. 254). During the processes, as the curator Sharmini Pererira notes, "the end point of the artwork shifts from something enclosed and pre-determined to something characterized by processes of dialogue and negotiation that arise through the interaction of situations, individuals, groups, terrains and factors which lie predominantly outside the field of art." (Albion/Michael Hue-Williams Fine Art Ltd., Cai Guo-qiang: Man, Eagle and Eye in the Sky , London, UK, 2004, p. 13)

Cai's contraction to extreme site-specificity and a conscious and constant endeavor to transcend cultural and historical limitations in his projects, poignantly demonstrates the artist's utopian ideals of social engagement and mobilization, and his core belief in the transformational quality of art and culture in society. As such, Cai's Eye-Kite Flying People combines time, process, action, observation, performance, and events into a unique art form, an aesthetic that rejects materialist tendencies and embraces the unpredictable. The work derives universal meanings extending far beyond the moment and the immediate locality, generating a new focus on our cultures and interpersonal relationships. As even the most local of arts or cultures can still be linked to world trends, and for Cai, this is perhaps where cross-regionalism begins to extend toward a greater world unity.

Eye in the Sky: A Universal Vision of Humankind and Civilization

"When I came into being in this land, they brought my eye with them. After I joined together my members, I wept over them. That is how humankind came into being from the tears, which came forth from my eye."
-From the ancient Egyptian papyrus, Bremner Rhind, British Museum 10188. Translation: John A. Wilson.

Eye-Kite Flying People describes Cai's expression of a particularly important, if not the most salient, moment of the project that features eye-shaped kites hovering above the Temple of Amun at Siwa (Fig. 5, 6 & 7). The temple is historic and legendary in that Alexander the Great made the epic journey across the Egyptian desert to this very temple to consult its famous oracle to ask two questions,"Will I rule the world?" and "Am I the Son of God?" to which the response was allegedly in the affirmative.

Cai's choice of the motif of the eye in its local context of Egypt leads the participants of the project and us to immediately consider the ancient Egyptian symbolism of the eye, which represents Horus, the god of the sky (Fig. 8). A popular amulet worn to fend against bad luck, the Eye of Horus takes on a new meaning here, and the image also evokes an all-seeing eye, symbolic of God that encompasses the man's relationship with the unknown forces of fate and destiny. Having taken inspiration from ancient heroes, Egyptian imagery and hieroglyphs, Oracles and fortune-telling the project evokes an aura of magic and mystery. But this is in essence also noted by Cai's own belief in destiny and metaphysical matters: "I believe in unseen energies and forcesK. Perhaps this sounds a bit mystical from a western perspective, by many of my concerns are quite commonplace for Chinese. For example the concept of fengshui is deeply seated and has been a part of my family's vocabulary since my birth. It has formed a firm and natural foundation for my world view. I am merely bravely presenting it in my work and not avoiding what is obvious to me." (Albion/Michael Hue-Williams Fine Art Ltd., Cai Guo-qiang: Man, Eagle and Eye in the Sky, London, UK, 2004, p. 125)

Cai contends the notions of tradition and modernity, creation and destruction, yet these are not polarized through his artworks and he achieves more a merger of the two. This manner of viewing dualities is a strongly Chinese approach - such as the yin and the yang - a balance of opposing forces that achieve harmony in nature. In accordance with the philosophical and religious perceptions upon which Taoism, fengshui and other teachings are based, Cai perceives man and the universe as a unified whole. "[I wish to] travel in time, like the fengshui masters and alchemists of ancient times, from the very origins of mankind into the future; to move freely back and forth between the East and West, from micro to macro realms, and between global and local worlds."

Aesthetically, Cai has contributed a genuinely new and innovative approach to contemporary art-making. The furious energy of his gunpowder drawings juxtapose symbols that are significant for both Western and Eastern audiences alike. In Eye-Kite Flying People , blasting gunpowder on a four paneled screen, is practical in design yet grand in presentation. Screens have a distinct Asian element, with its traditions originating from Japan with its ritualistic, decorative and functional qualities. Screens also serve as medium of powerful yet gentle visual properties. The forms of the people and kites are evoked by a combination of pigment and explosion; people in turn emerge from the contrast of white pigment against the gunpowder that outlines their silhouettes. The techniques imbue the eye-kites with a cosmic almost decorative element that transcends a mere "realistic" or descriptive representation. The structure of the composition here reminds the viewer of descriptions of constellations, imaginative articulations of points of light in the night sky that illustrate archetypal and mythological stories about the formation of the universe. At the same time emphasized the gulf between human and the mighty eyes in the sky, representation of humankind's vision.

This re-ordering of the scale and viewer's position has been an essential strategy for Cai. As he did throughout his Projects for Extraterrestrials series, he reimagines that typical scale on which we imagine natural and historical events. Here he has taken a dramatic but simple image of kite-flying and elevated it to the status of a grand metaphor for humanity and relationship with God. The eyes, symbolic of all-seeing power of God in Christianity, symbol of protection and life in ancient Egypt, appear to be looming like a curtain against the sky, almost extraterrestrial in its looks. Considering within the body of Cai's post-9/11 works, the mythic appearance of these eyekites in the vast sky remind us that such relationship between god and humans, and sky and earth are as old as time itself. Cai introduces a unique concept, while embracing the social context and sense of community of the project. Through his art, he introduces the common symbols and metaphysical concerns, evoking ancient and modern civilization, in order to stimulate exchanges and dialogues between humankind. As Cai recreates these ideas through his explosive art, exploring the Earth's history and civilization, he urges viewers to leave behind narrow individual perspectives and view spectacles of primordial chaos and creation, offering them new realizations about the universe, nature, and the traces of life on Earth.
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