I don’t go to galleries and museums that often so it has to be something a bit out of the ordinary to entice me in out of the Southbank sunshine.
Cai Guo-Qiang is definitely a special artist. Although the show is only 3 exhibits plus a reflection space where you can enjoy Tie Guan Yin a tea from Cais home province of Fujian you need to allow plenty of time. The exhibits each make a significant impact occupying a large gallery room each.
I intentionally went during the week because I knew a bit of the story behind the exhibition and wanted a less busy time to enjoy and reflect. It worked reasonably well except for a rather noisy girls school visit.
The feature photo at the top of the page shows the first gallery display is Heritage. It’s a display of 99 animals around a watering hole which Cai says was inspired by his visits to North Stradbroke Island off the coast of Brisbane. The numbers 9 and 99 being significant to Cai, 9 in Chinese numerology represents long-lasting and 99 suggests something unfinished and leaving a taste for more. The animals are created not stuffed and there are some quirks open to interpretation and contemplation like the relative sizing being off and is that a sharks fin on the camel?
The Foyer contains Eucalyptus, a huge native Eucalypt relocated to the gallery from a housing development. Cai presents this as an unfinished work of creativity and was inspired to create the display after a visit to the Lamington National Park in the Gold Coast hinterland. He invites the viewer to contemplate the tree imagining its past and its future.
The river room has been set as the Tea Pavillion with simple but lovely wooden stools and tables from which to sip the complementary Tie Guan Yin tea while overlooking Brisbane River. The tea is served cold and unsweetened but has a floral note and is soft rather than bitter.
The display in the final gallery is Head On 2006, again comprising 99 animals, this time wolves that form a ring launching into the air before hitting a glass wall and tumbling to the ground only to pick themselves up and return to the start to try again. Its inspiration was the turbulent history of the Berlin wall, Cai intends it to remind us to be resilient like wolves learning from our mistakes and to remind us that our worries are like that invisible wall holding us back only if we let them.
Cai’s early training was in stage design and he has lived in China, Japan and now New York, you can see how each of these has impacted his larger than life installation artworks. Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Cai’s work and the commitment of GOMA, Queensland’s Gallery of Modern Art bringing it to Brisbane until May 2014. Tickets are $15 with various concessions available.