Netflix recently released the trailer for their new original documentary film Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang. Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Kevin MacDonald, the film, which is slated for release on October 14, will track the world-renowned artist’s meteoric rise through the artist’s own words as well as those of family, friends and vigilant observers. Ultimately, it seeks to examine the unique process behind some of Guo-Qiang’s most intriguing works, such as a six-mile long gunpowder fuse stemming from the Great Wall into the Gobi Desert and the astounding opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
With the documentary’s ambitious namesake —a 1,650-foot ladder of fire climbing into the skies about his hometown—the film captures Cai’s work, which unites Eastern philosophy with contemporary social issues. Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang (produced by Wendi Murdoch, Fisher Stevens and Hugo Shong, with executive producer Bennett Miller) is an in-depth portrait of a contemporary creative icon with an ever-present social-political consciousness, a man whose captivating works are visually imposing with implications just as grandiose.
Guo-Qiang was trained in stage design at the Shanghai Theater Academy, and his work has since crossed multiple mediums within art, including drawing, installation, video and performance art. While living in Japan from 1986 to 1995, he explored the properties of gunpowder in his drawings, an inquiry that eventually led to his experimentation with explosives on a massive scale and to the development of his signature explosion events. Drawing upon Eastern philosophy and contemporary social issues as a conceptual basis, these projects and events aim to establish an exchange between viewers and the larger universe around them, utilizing a site-specific approach to culture and history.
Cai was awarded the Japan Cultural Design Prize in 1995 and the Golden Lion at the 48th Venice Biennale in 1999. Solo exhibitions and projects include Cai Guo-Qiang on the Roof: Transparent Monument, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2006 and his retrospective I Want to Believe, which opened at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York in February 2008 before traveling to the National Art Museum of China in Beijing in August 2008 and then to the Guggenheim Bilbao in March 2009. Cai was the curator of the first China Pavilion at the 51st Venice Biennale in 2005.