Cai Guo-Qiang: 1040m Underground features two newsite-specific installations, including a new series of gunpowder drawings produced on the IZOLYATSIA campus. For the gunpowder drawings, Cai worked closely with local artists, miners and volunteers to create the new pieces on canvas.
The entire process was open and free to the public, and audience members were able to witness an artist at work as well as experience the ignition of the gunpowder drawings firsthand.
People worldwide, including local community who missed this rare opportunity, were also able to access the events live online throughthe exhibition’s website.
The exhibition stems from the artist’s experience during May, 2011 in the coal and salt mines of the industrial Donbass region. During his visit, Cai descended 1040 meters below ground level and trekked more than 1000 meters in the tunnel, mirroring the same route the coal miners take every day. After his “journey to the centre of the Earth”, a hike to the top of the IZOLYATSIA terrekon brought Cai to the height of 50 meters, where he could admire the industrialcity panorama.
Cai Guo-Qiang: 1040m Underground chronicles Cai’s dialogue with the local community and their history and culture. His work seeks to express the fate of people, specifically the once glorified labourers of the lower class in a rapidly changing time.
The exhibition also reveals new possibilities through contemporary art: by transforming waste into treasure, we inherit and practice the “Socialist ideal”: art for the people, and art embedded in life.
Titled Monuments on Shoulders, the gunpowder drawing installation depicted a total of 27 miners: 9 salt miners from Artemsol in Soledar, and 18 coal miners from Oktyabrskiy Rudnik. In the lobbies of each site, 18 local Socialist Realist artists — together with Cai himself — sketched the portraits of the miners as they finished their shifts and walked out of the mines. The production then returned to IZOLYATSIA, where the artists enlarged their images and volunteers helped carve the large-scale sketches into stencils.
Finally, Cai spread different grades and grains of gunpowder onto the canvases to achieve different visual effects, all the while careful to preserve the essence and style of each artist’s sketch and the characteristics and aura of each miner. The finished gunpowder drawings were mounted on frames identical to the ones used to hold the portraits of Soviet leaders in propaganda parades. They were lit with mining lamps that hung from the ceiling above like stars, with a mound of coal spread across the gallery to the left, and a slope of salt to the right.
Salt, coal and gunpowder are all extracts from nature, yet also simultaneously accomplishments of our civilization. Through the transfiguration of energy, each gunpowder drawing in Monuments on Shoulders was born. It represented both the radiance of life, as well as the underlying risk and anxiety in a miner’s occupation.