A Clan of Boats

Cai Guo-Qiang A Clan of Boats

Texts by Luise Faurschou and Jens Faurschou, Jannie Haageman, Karen Smith, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Cai Guo-Qiang

Throughout his career, Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang (born 1957) has used the motif of the boat to represent the exchange of knowledge across cultures. In his monograph, A Clan of Boats, Guo-Qiang gathers his use of the motif into a single compilation and speaks for the first time about the many works he has created with boats throughout the course of his artistic career.

“I am actually a vessel myself,” he writes in this volume; “I left home a long time ago, the centuries-old harbor city of Quanzhou. I sailed to Shanghai first, and then to Tokyo, New York, and the rest of the world, further and further, shuttling between different ports, different natural sceneries, cultures, and histories.”

Art is most genuine when it reveals contradictions

Cai Guo-qiang

For Cai Guo-Qiang explosions are transformative forces releasing qì, bringing forth the exchange in material and spirit. In Taoist philosophy, qì is an active flow that is part of all living things. The process of destruction is a transition from existence to non-existence; as one material is destroyed, another is created. Like an alchemist, Cai uses gunpowder made out of basic natural ingredients such as saltpetre, sulphur, and charcoal to defy our earth-bound gravity, to then transcend the material, and to ultimately enter the immaterial.

The fifteen-metre-long skeleton of a ship wreck is filled with a heap of broken white porcelain that flows over from the inside of the boat and out onto the floor. The pile of porcelain consists of broken statuettes of Buddhist Avalokitesvara, also known as bodhisattva of compassion. The snow-white porcelain shimmers in the light, and the entire installation evokes a sunken ship filled with treasure and alludes to other cultural and historical objects lost under the sea. It reflects the destructive power of time, and the inherent beauty brought out by its passage.