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For his first solo show in Germany, Head On at Deutsche Guggenheim, Cai Guo-Qiang (surname Cai) created a three-part work complex that reflects the diversity of his oeuvre and relates thematically to Berlin’s history and present.

Like all other Deutsche Bank Collection projects, Head On was developed in close cooperation with the artist, who has lived in New York for eleven years. What is new, however, is that all three works were specially conceived for the museum and that major portions were produced on site in Berlin, including the large-format gunpowder drawing Vortex and the explosion project Illusion II contained in the exhibition's video work.

Illusion II: Explosion Project
9:30pm, July 11, 2006
Photo by Hiro Ihara
© courtesy Cai Studio

In October 2005, during his first stay in the German capital, Cai’s agenda included visits to Checkpoint Charlie, the Soviet Memorial, the remains of the Berlin Wall, and the memorial museum Topography of Terror. Inspired by the omnipresence of German history, he outlined three ideas for the exhibition. Together, their combined concept not only utilizes the unusual working mediums for which Cai is best known, but also addresses the city of Berlin in terms of content and the exhibition space in terms of form. The title work Head On lends its name to the exhibition and takes over most of the exhibition gallery in its physical volume. The installation consists of a pack of 99 life-sized wolves barreling in a continuous stream towards—and into—a constructed glass wall. Other works in the exhibition include the aforementioned 9 x 4 meter gunpowder drawing showing hundreds of wolves whose bodies form a giant vortex and the two-channel video work Illusion II.

Proposal drawing for Vortex, 2005
Ink pen on paper
© Cai Guo-Qiang

The wolves were produced in Quanzhou, China, from January to June of 2006. The commissioned local workshop in Cai’s hometown specializes in manufacturing remarkable, life-sized replicas of animals. First, small clay models were created as movement studies, out of which Cai subsequently developed Head On’s artist editions of cast resin wolves. However, the realistic and lifelike 99 wolves that grew out of these models and drawings possess no literal remnants of wolves: they are fabricated from painted sheepskins and stuffed with hay and metal wires, with plastic lending contour to their faces and marbles for eyes.

The July 2006 explosion project, which provided the basis for the video work Illusion II, took place in the very center of Berlin. It required a large empty piece of property, and from the three proposed areas, Cai selected an approximately 30,000-square-meter empty lot at the corner of Stresemannstraße and Möckernstraße surrounded by office high-rises and residential buildings—typical, if it were not for the ruins of the Anhalter railroad station, towering as a mark of history in the background. Cai was fascinated by this detail, since it matched perfectly what Illusion II is about: a reflection, in his own words, on “the contradictory powers of violence and beauty,” on “destruction, glory, and heroism” in the history of Berlin. In accordance with the artist’s instructions, a small, “typical German house” was built on the lot with the professional support of the film studios in Babelsberg, just outside of Berlin. The house was then packed with fireworks and rockets of various types and with different effects to Cai’s design. On July 11, 2006, at 9:30 p.m., Cai Guo-Qiang gave the starting command. Against the setting sun in the evening sky and the Berlin cityscape, a magnificent spectacle ensued, lasting approximately 18 minutes. The event was captured on film and video cameras.

Production images of wolfes, 2006
© courtesy Cai Studio

The third and final piece in the exhibition, the gunpowder drawing Vortex, was created in mid-August in the atrium of the Deutsche Bank. Handmade paper was spread out on the floor, and the motifs were formed by a dozen varieties of gunpowder, topped with stencils and pressure-forming cardboards and rocks. The artist lit a fuse, and the drawing was ignited in a matter of seconds, producing an enormous white cloud of smoke. When the cardboard is removed, the new work reveals itself as a result of both planning and chance.

Cai Guo-Qiang was born in 1957 in the city of Quanzhou in Fujian Province, China, and is considered today to be one of the most important contemporary international artists. His works have been exhibited in major international museums, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Tate Modern, and Centre Pompidou. In 1999 Cai Guo-Qiang won the Golden Lion of the 48th Venice Biennial with Venice’s Rent Collection Courtyard. In 2005 he curated the first Chinese pavilion at the Venice Biennale. In 2008, his work will be featured in a mid-career retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and the National Art Museum of China in Beijing.

Production images of wolfes, 2006
© courtesy Cai Studio

Read following articles about the exhibition at www.db-artmag.com, Deutsche Bank's online art magazine:
feedback // Tragic Beauty / A Conversation with Cai Guo-Qiang

Visit the artist´s website: