Once Upon a Try: The art of discovery and invention

Updated 2019-04-11 08:43:00

"We are particularly happy to work with Chinese institutions that provide such a wide, diverse and historically significant heritage," says Pierre Caessa, program manager of Google Arts& Culture.

"We believe that more access to culture online will generate a greater appetite for people to go and visit museums in person," Caessa says.

According to Luisella Mazza, head of global operations for Google Arts& Culture, there is increasing interest in cultural artifacts from China and a rise in the number of related virtual museum visits.

The platform also aims to explore the connections between different cultures. For example, they made short video series examining the origins of subjects as diverse as soccer and mathematics.

The exclusive documentary named Cai Guoqiang and da Vinci: Painting with Gunpowder is another example of how the platform attempts to connect the East and the West.

Cai is best known for his fireworks installations, including his work Footprints of History, which he created for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and Sky Ladder.

Gunpowder was accidentally discovered around the 9th century by Taoist alchemists who were looking to enhance longevity. Cai used the same techniques to make fireworks as he did to create his paintings.

He created a firework rainbow in New York City in 2002 to symbolize rebirth and hope in the wake of the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and in 2008, he created a daytime show using black fireworks to resemble the mushroom cloud in Hiroshima, to convey social and political meanings.

Cai also views the documentary as a salute to Leonardo da Vinci, the Renaissance figure who was fond of gunpowder and had designed weapons that channeled its immense power.

To mark the 500th anniversary of da Vinci's death this year, Cai created a painting under the name, Study of Birds.

He magnifies the Italian master's sketches onto a large canvas, carves the outlines with a knife, fills in the blanks with gunpowder and then detonates the work as he introduces it in the documentary.

The painting was displayed at his 2018 solo exhibition Flora Commedia at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, which opened after his daytime firework performance, City of Flowers in the Sky.

Cai especially enjoys some of the painter's more obscure doodles, such as detailed drawings of the hairs on a bird's feet or the sensual, parted lips of a man's mouth.

"Da Vinci's observations were amazing. He had designed various novel devices and methods to explore nature, which blurred the boundary of art and science, reality and fantasy," Cai says, adding that he was impressed that the master was as curious and free as a child, while he maintained his genius for imagination.

"I myself like playing with fire and the feeling of losing control, acting at random and encountering unexpected things-just as I did when I was a boy," says the 62-year-old.

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