Up close with Curatorial Manager on Cia Guo-Qiang: Falling Back To Earth

Heritage at QAGOMA. Author Katherine Lamont

Heritage at QAGOMA. Author Katherine Lamont

My first look around Cia Guo-Qiang’s exhibition left me feeling very in tune to the cycle of life. Below is an article, written for a local website Creative Drinks, which highlights the wonderful exhibition at QAGOMA.

International Artist Cia Guo-Qiang has ‘come home’ to Queensland and has brought his spectacular exhibition Cia Guo-Qiang: Falling Back To Earth with him.

As a world-renowned contemporary Artist, Guo-Qiang has released his first Australian solo exhibition at the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA of QAGOMA).

Cai Guo-Qiang_Portrait

‘Cai Guo-Qiang in front of installation Eucalyptus at the Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, Australia, 2013. Photo by Yuyu Chen, courtesy Cai Studio.’

The exhibition encompasses magnificent installations that both challenge and provoke thought amongst the audience.

russell-1

Russell Storer Profile. Image by QAGOMA

In an interview with QAGOMA Curatorial Manager Asian and Pacific Art Russell Storer, we discussed the inspiration behind QAGOMA’s most anticipated exhibition of 2013.

Storer believed Guo-Qiang has been inspired by “his experiences in Queensland” and I can see that the essence of place is apparent amongst each creative installation.

During his visit, Guo-Qiang said, “I was touched by the beauty of Queensland.

With a strong background in art, Storer stated Guo-Qiang’s “time here has made him think very closely about the state of the natural world, how we relate to it as people, and his concerns for the future of the planet.”

QAGOMA Director Chris Saines said, “Cai is shifting his focus from the cosmos to the Earth and to humanity’s complex relationship with nature, while maintaining his keen eye on both the seen and unseen forces that impact life.” As I wove in and out of each installation, I could see just how apparent this connection has been.

With famously large ambitions both in size and in impact, Guo-Qiang has presented Queensland with three large displays. All of which I experienced myself when I handed over my small white ticket that entitled me to a show of brilliance and contemplation.

When I stepped through the entranceway, I could see the incredible strength of Guo-Qiang’s work. As the first artist to spread artwork over the entire ground floor of GOMA, I could feel Guo-Qiang’s towering dreams and aspiration for a powerful impression.

This was one of the major challenges for the gallery. Storer said his complex works “can often be very difficult to realise, as he has a boundless vision and works at the very highest level.”

Eucalyptus at QAGOMA Author Katherine Lamont 02

As I looked up to the 100-year-old spotted gum tree (Corymbia maculata) towering overhead in the central Long Gallery, I thought about Storer’s words. The entire native tree, roots and all, told a story of its own. I was provoked to consider the journey of its life. I contemplated the time where it stood still in the open air, the storms it must have stayed strong though and its complete life from beginning to end.

However Eucalyptus, something so inviting, was a particular test for QAGOMA. Storer stated, “We had to locate just the right tree, and one that was either dead or near the end of its life.” He went on to say, “The next challenge was to bring it into the gallery, which meant taking the front doors off the building.” Storer believed Guo-Qiang works to “push people and institutions further than they ever thought they could go, coming up with magical works that literally defy the imagination!”

Eucalyptus at QAGOMA Author Katherine Lamont

Eucalyptus, what was once complex and difficult, is now an opportunity for the public. It has created a simple and calming space for audiences, who make up the finished work, to interact, reflect and contemplate the cycle of life.

Tea Pavillion at QAGOMA Author Katherine Lamont

Located next to the Tea Pavilion with Fujian Tie Guan Yin tea on offer, sitting peacefully nearby the spotted gum is not a difficult task.   

Heritage at QAGOMA Author Katherine Lamont 02

I continued on and made my way around the enormous unspoiled lake in Heritage, which opposes the conflicts of life. Storer described this installation as one which “taps into our sense that we have become detached from nature, and we can only look on at this silent gathering of animals that does not include us, who have put their differences aside and come together to share this precious water.”

Head On at QAGOMA Author Katherine Lamont 02

Despite holding a similar notion of unified strength, Storer confirmed that Heritage and Head On “relate to very different aspects of human nature.” The ferocious and reckless, hurling wolves in Head On illustrates “bravery and resilience of people as well as our tendency to sometimes blindly follow the leader and not learn from our mistakes.”

Head On at QAGOMA Author Katherine Lamont

Each animal in Heritage and Head On had particularly strong details that drew the audience in and allowed you to get lost in their eyes. Created in Guo-Qiang’s hometown in Quanzhou, China, 99 of these larger than life sized creatures were displayed in both exhibitions.

Storer commented that this number is frequently used in Guo-Qiang’s work. Storer stated “they have significance in Chinese numerology but also suggest to him something that is not quite complete, leaving us with a sense of more to come.” Similar to Eucalyptus, these installations allow the audience to consider their own story and unfinished life cycle.

Inspired by fourth-century poet Tao Yuanming’s and his poem, ‘Ah, homeward bound I go!’ Cia Guo-Qiang: Falling Back To Earth encompasses this notion of returning home. Guo-Qiang stated, “The text captures the concept behind the exhibition.”

While Storer believed this may refer to Guo-Qiang’s own “coming ‘home’ to Brisbane” or ”his childhood in China,” he also suggested it “is so closely related to the most fundamental aspects of how we live. It is the familiar environments that we observe the most closely and that we can see changing over time, and home is the place we care most about, so any threat to that affects us the most deeply. The exhibition really taps into this sense of taking stock of our place in the world and where we might go from here.”

With their long-standing relationship since 1996, Guo-Qiang and QAGOMA have effectively collaborated to make this extraordinary exhibition a success. Storer commented, “We learned so much, not only about (Guo-Qiang’s) practice as an artist, but also about how to think outside of our conventional ways of working to come up with innovative solutions and creative approaches for the project.”

Storer stated, “It was a collaboration in every sense” and one which Guo-Giang “is already considering (as) one of his most important.” Cia Guo-Qiang: Falling Back To Earth is an impressive and compelling exhibition, which will be remembered as the most anticipated exhibition of 2013.

DetailsCia Guo-Qiang: Falling Back to Earth, Art Exhibition | Gallery of Modern Art, Cultural Precinct, South Bank | 23 November 2013 to 11 May 2014

All other images: Falling Back To Earth details. Images by author Katherine Lamont

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