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Artist Cai Guo-Qiang Makes a Literal Stairway to Heaven with Gun Powder

You can hear the art of Chinese-born artist Cai Guo-Qiang coming. That’s because the mastermind behind Beijing’s opening and closing ceremony fireworks of the 2008 Olympics is best known for letting his art leap from carefully controlled explosions.

In a demonstration on June 15th, 4:49AM, off the coast of Huiyu Island in Quanzhou, Fujian Province, China (the artist’s hometown), Guo-Qiang unleashed a project that had reportedly been planned, but never realized, for 21 years: a true stairway to Heaven. Onlookers watched as, slowly but surely, Sky Ladder was traced into the sky.

Stairway_PIC

The magic of Guo-Qiang’s stairway is in its misdirection. By using gun powder-covered wires rigged to a balloon floating in a still dark morning sky, the display gives the impression of both infinity and reality. It is like the way to Heaven was always there, it just needed illumination.

To pull off Sky Ladder, a giant white balloon filled with 6,200 cubic meters of helium (two and a half times the volume of an Olympic swimming pool) carried a 500-meter long wire ladder adorned with golden fireworks and quick-burning fuses into the sky above Huiyu Island. A little over two minutes after ignition, a burning ladder remained.

Guo-Qiang reflected on Sky Ladder in a press release:

Behind Sky Ladder lies a clear childhood dream of mine. Despite all life’s twists and turns, I have always been determined to realize it. My earlier proposals were either more abstract or ceremonial. Sky Ladder today is tender, and touches my heart deeply: it carries affection for my hometown, my relatives and my friends. In contrast to my other attempts, which set the ignition time at dusk, this time the ladder rose toward the morning sun, carrying hope. For me, this not only means a return but also the start of a new journey.

Born in 1957 in Quanzhou City, Fujian Province, China Guo-Qiang now lives and works as an artist in New York.

You can check out some of Guo-Qiang’s work in the video from Motherboard below, and learn much more about his work in a profile over at Smithsonian Magazine.

HT: Cai Guo-Qiang

IMAGE: Photo by Lin Yi, courtesy Cai Studio

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