“Please: to the people who are still moving into the fenced area, move quickly, otherwise the Fire department won’t let us begin!”
We heard this warning several times while waiting over an hour for Cai Guo Qiang’s controlled explosion to start. Pushing against the chain link fence, we looked like grubby concert-goers desperate for a chance to catch a glimpse of our cherished 80’s metal band. After people filled in the 4,000 capacity parking lot, MOCA’s director Jeffrey Deitch stepped onto the podium and introduced the representative from East-West Bank, who then introduced Cai Guo Qiang. He spoke through a translator, expressing his thanks and near bewilderment at how he arrived here through his artwork: “Thirty years ago, I could have never imagined that I would be setting off rockets here, at MOCA”. His heartfelt emotion coursed through us, as we were also just as excited to see his crop circle explode. “Thirty years ago, I set off one small rocket toward a canvas. I never would have imagined I would be setting off 40,000 rockets at MOCA today!”
When asked what his expectations were for the explosion, he admitted bashfully “I honestly don’t have any idea, we will all see”.
A few more warnings issued, and the countdown was underway. After the 15 second mark, nothing happened for a moment or two. Then, an explosion one sees time and time again in movies but never experiences in person bursted forth, heat and missile-like rockets all flying toward us. I instinctively ducked behind my neighbor, as I truly believed we were all going to die. The bright yellow and orange mass diffused into white plumes of smoke, wafting higher and higher into the air, providing a sense of wartime aftermath. Cai Guo Qiang’s crop circles were left smoldering, blackened like land ravaged by similar treatment of missiles. Not quite just a spectacle, the performance served as a reminder of man’s instinctive fear and simultaneous compulsion to experiment -and even toy- with those very forces that frighten us. See the video below for perspective.
Photography, video and text: Yanyan Huang