"The Ninth Wave" sailing on the Huangpu River by the Bund, Shanghai, 2014. Wen-You Cai, courtesy of Cai Studio

Cai Guo-Qiang's haunting installations reflect on nature—and the horrible things people keep doing to it.

After setting sail a month ago, an old boat full of real-looking stuffed animals* has arrived inside Shanghai's Power Station of Art.

It's just one of many pieces from Cai Guo-Qiang's new solo exhibit, The Ninth Wave, which contemplates man's destruction of nature. It's a theme not lost on Shanghai residents, who live with frequently poor air quality and last year saw 16,000 dead pigs float down the Huangpu river after farmers in a neighboring province dumped them into the water.

The boat full of 99 dead-looking "animals" (they're made of styrofoam and goat hide)* set sail from Cai's hometown of Quanzhou (he now lives in New York) on July 12 and arrived in China's biggest city five days later. Though it's the centerpiece of the exhibit at the state-owned museum, the city government never actually issued the permits needed to complete the trip. “The boat came in anyway,” Cai tells The Art Newspaper.

The boat and its cargo are, understandably, the stars of the show. But similarly powerful moments can be found in other installations. One, titled Silent Ink, is a 2,690-square-foot lake carved out of the museum floor. Instead of water, the lake is filled with black ink and the path alongside it is filled with what looks like rubble. It's a scene that reflects traditional Chinese landscape painting as much as is does the country's modern-day land and water pollution.

Another large-scale piece, the 88-by-13-foot Bund Without Us, imagines what Shanghai might look like after humans depart and nature takes over again. (The cityscape is drawn with gunpowder, a material the artist is perhaps most famous for using.) And underneath the former power plant's massive chimney, three baby dolls sitting on a swing in an especially haunting piece titled Air of Heaven.

After years of public outcry against the country's shameful stalling on efforts to curb dangerous pollution levels, Cai's exhibit comes as officials have gone so far as to declare a "war against pollution" earlier this year. The Ninth Wave is a reminder that the war can't start soon enough.

Installation view of "The Ninth Wave" in the Great Hall of the Power Station of Art. (Zhang Feiyu, courtesy Cai Studio)
Installation view of "Silent Ink." (Wen-You Cai, courtesy Cai Studio)
Installation view of "The Bund Without Us." (Zhang Feiyu, courtesy Cai Studio)
Installation view of "Air of Heaven." (Wen-You Cai, courtesy Cai Studio)

"Cai Guo-Qiang: The Ninth Wave" is on exhibit at the Power Station of Art in Shanghai through October 26, 2014.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the artist's animals were taxidermied. They are in fact more like stuffed animals, largely constructed out of styrofoam and goat hide. 

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. photo: A lone tourist in Barcelona, one of several global cities that have seen a massive crash in Airbnb bookings.
    Coronavirus

    Can Airbnb Survive Coronavirus?

    The short-term rental market is reeling from the coronavirus-driven tourism collapse. Can the industry’s dominant player stage a comeback after lockdowns lift?

  2. Illustration: two roommates share a couch with a Covid-19 virus.
    Coronavirus

    For Roommates Under Coronavirus Lockdown, There Are a Lot of New Rules

    Renters in apartments and houses share more than just germs with their roommates: Life under coronavirus lockdown means negotiating new social rules.

  3. Equity

    We'll Need To Reopen Our Cities. But Not Without Making Changes First.

    We must prepare for a protracted battle with coronavirus. But there are changes we can make now to prepare locked-down cities for what’s next.

  4. A pedestrian wearing a protective face mask walks past a boarded up building in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. Governors from coast to coast Friday told Americans not to leave home except for dire circumstances and ordered nonessential business to shut their doors.
    Equity

    The Geography of Coronavirus

    What do we know so far about the types of places that are more susceptible to the spread of Covid-19? In the U.S., density is just the beginning of the story.

  5. Equity

    The Problem With a Coronavirus Rent Strike

    Because of coronavirus, millions of tenants won’t be able to write rent checks. But calls for a rent holiday often ignore the longer-term economic effects.

×