On View: Cai GuoQiang’s “The Ninth Wave” at Power Station of Art

by Nastia VoynovskayaPosted on

You no longer have to be a scientist to understand the catastrophic impact of pollution and its friend global warming. In California, we’re facing the greatest drought in recorded history; marine animals are choking on our collective waste amid mass plastic contamination in the ocean; in China last year, 16,000 pig carcasses were spotted floating down Huangpu River. Chinese-born, New York-based artist Cai GuoQiang reacts to global environmental catastrophes with his monumental exhibition, “The Ninth Wave,” currently on view at Power Station of Art, China’s first publicly-funded contemporary art museum in Shanghai. An interdisciplinary show filled with large-scale installations, ceramic works, drawings and even performance, “The Ninth Wave” examines the harrowing after-effects of rampant industrialization with finesse.

Before “The Ninth Wave” opened on August 8, Cai set sail on his eponymous installation from his hometown of Quanzhou down the Huangpu River and to the pier at Power Station of Art. A fishing boat populated by dejected-looking stuffed animals, The Ninth Wave evokes the aforementioned dead pig horror story as well as the cramped living conditions of factory farm animals and wild creatures fleeing their habitats out of necessity. The installation takes its name from a 1850 painting by Ivan Aivazovsky, which depicts the survivors of a shipwreck clinging on for dear life. While the painting pits the helplessness of humanity against the forces of nature, The Ninth Wave installation expresses how humankind, in turn, has disrupted the balance of the ecosystem. After arriving at the museum, the installation was installed indoors alongside several other large-scale works.

Cai completed a series of mural-sized, site-specific gun powder drawings on the museum’s walls and on ceramic tiles. The pieces, like another neighboring installation, Silent Ink, make the exhibition reek pungently of death. While the hazy, feathery gunpowder drawings evoke the griminess of a smoggy cityscape, Silent Ink is a black pool filled with ink, conjuring images of China’s contaminated waters. Head On, another immersive work, depicts a pack of wolves throttling towards a clear glass wall only to strike the invisible barrier, making it impossible to escape the danger they’re running from.

It’s easy to turn a blind eye to environmental issues, especially when pollution is so rampant that an individual’s choices hardly make a dent in the mass contamination perpetrated by corporations. Cai’s “The Ninth Wave” unapologetically confronts viewers with the repercussions of fossil fuel emissions, hazardous waste and the countless other issues facing our planet. He doesn’t offer up a solution, but one thing is clear from this exhibition: something has to change.


Silent Ink installation.


Gunpowder on porcelain pieces dominate the exhibition hall

A mural-scale gunpowder drawing

The Ninth Wave installation at Power Station of Art.

The Ninth Wave docked at the Power Station of Art riverfront in Shanghai before being installed at the gallery. The installation set sail from the artist’s hometown of Quanzhou.

Part performance and part happening, Cai staged an explosion on the riverfront of the Power Station of Art for the opening of The Ninth Wave.

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