Thought-provoking and spectacular new installations inspired by Queensland landscapes premiered in the first Australian solo exhibition of leading international contemporary artist Cai Guo-Qiang, at the Gallery of Modern Art
'Cai Guo-Qiang: Falling Back to Earth', presented by Tourism and Events Queensland and Santos GLNG Project and on display from November 23 to May 11, 2014, builds on a longstanding working relationship between the artist and the Gallery, which dates back to Cai's participation in the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art exhibitions in 1996 and 1999.
For the first time ever, all 3,000 square metres of GOMA's ground floor have been dedicated to an exhibition of work by a single living artist. 'Falling Back to Earth' features installations of 99 replicas of animals drinking from a pristine lake; 99 wolves leaping en masse and colliding with a glass wall; a suspended 31-metre eucalyptus tree, creating a space for contemplation; and a tea pavilion where visitors can pause, drink tea, and find out more about the artist and the exhibition. There is also an interactive installation for children and a chronological display of the artist's career, with photographs, ephemera, and original art works selected by the artist.
Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) Director Chris Saines said Cai Guo-Qiang's ground-breaking practice over 25 years used unexpected materials to create transformative event-based and social projects.
'This exhibition is a significant evolution for one of today's most compelling and highly respected global artists, realised with a level of ambition unprecedented for an Australian art museum,' Mr Saines said.
'Cai is shifting his focus from the cosmos to the Earth and to humanity's complex relationship with nature, while maintaining his keen eye on both the seen and unseen forces that impact life.'
Cai Guo-Qiang said the exhibition title 'Falling Back to Earth' was inspired by fourth-century poet Tao Yuanming's well-known prose poem, 'Ah, homeward bound I go!'
'The text captures the concept behind the exhibition, and expresses the idea of going home, returning to the harmonious relationship between man and nature, and re-embracing the tranquillity in the landscape,' he said.
Exhibition curator Russell Storer, Curatorial Manager of Asian and Pacific Art, QAGOMA, said the new commissions drew on the striking beauty of Queensland landscapes and the exquisite imagery in historical Chinese painting and poetry, to express concerns regarding the ecological and social issues of our time.
'Heritage 2013 is an installation of 99 replicas of animals including pandas, tigers, bears, giraffes and kangaroos, lowering their heads to drink water together from a lake that is surrounded by white sand, evoking the islands of Brisbane's Moreton Bay,' Mr Storer said.
'Seemingly a peaceful gathering of predator and prey, the menagerie of Heritage conveys an almost reverential solemnity, in a lyrical utopian vision loaded with uncertainty. It embodies Cai's image of a 'last paradise' and his awareness of a sense of crisis in contemporary societies across the world.'
The first single artwork to take up the entire 1,100m2 of GOMA's largest gallery space, Heritage presents animals drinking from a lake filled with 170 tonnes of water, which is viewable from a walkway that circles the entire installation.
The Gallery acquired Heritage thanks to a generous contribution from benefactor Win Schubert, through the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Diversity Foundation with the assistance of the QAGOMA Foundation.
'Eucalyptus 2013, a 31-metre tree suspended along GOMA's central Long Gallery, came from a plantation earmarked for clearing for urban community development. The work was inspired by the ancient trees of Lamington National Park, and creates a meditative, immersive experience for visitors,' Mr Storer said.
'Drawing on his history of socially provocative projects, Cai presents Eucalyptus as an unfinished work to be completed by the audience, who are invited to draw and write their ideas on the tree's past and future.'
'A third major installation, Head On 2006 Cai's signature work of 99 life-size sculptures of wolves, which was commissioned by Deutsche Bank, Berlin is appearing in Australia for the first time.'
In the free interactive installation, Let's Create an Exhibition with a Boy Named Cai 2013, Cai Guo-Qiang and the QAGOMA Children's Art Centre invite children to participate, using the artist's working methods to create their own exhibition through hands-on and multimedia activities, which include an online 'gunpowder drawing' making program. An illustrated storybook written by the artist and created in collaboration with the Children's Art Centre will be available from the QAGOMA Store.
The Tea Pavilion in the River Room invites visitors to pause, rest and reflect on the works in the exhibition. Visitors can sample Tie Guan Yin tea from Cai's home province of Fujian and watch a documentary created especially for 'Falling Back to Earth' to learn more about the processes behind the exhibition.
Trevor Brown, Vice President Queensland of exhibition Presenting Sponsor Santos GLNG, said it was exciting for Queensland to host new work by such an esteemed and world-renowned artist.
'We are delighted to be able to help bring the works of Cai Guo-Qiang exclusively to Queensland,' Mr Brown said.
A detailed chronology of Cai's work, including early works, ephemera, photographs and artefacts selected by the artist from his private collection and the QAGOMA Research Library, is being presented in the GOMA Foyer. The display offers insights into the artist's history with QAGOMA and the complexity and risk involved in Cai's work.
The exhibition has been fully documented in a major publication, available in January 2014. The book will feature photography of the new works and essays from leading curators, as well as reflections from Cai Guo-Qiang on his collaboration with children throughout his career.
Cai's recent solo exhibitions and projects have included the retrospective 'Cai Guo-Qiang: I Want to Believe', presented at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, the National Art Museum of China in Beijing in 2008 and the Guggenheim Bilbao in 2009. He was Director of Visual and Special Effects for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and his first exhibition in the Middle East was staged in Doha, Qatar, in 2011. In 2012, the artist appeared in solo exhibitions in Los Angeles, Hangzhou and Copenhagen. His first South American exhibition toured to Brasília, São Paolo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil in 2013.