Desire for Zero Gravity

Cai Guo-Qiang Studio
May 17, 2013 6:26PM

Last year, Cai created a gunpowder drawing for his solo exhibition Sky Ladder at The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles.  Over ten meters wide, Desire for Zero Gravity featured the curious story of a Chinese man named Wan Hu, who attempted to soar into the sky while strapped to a chair.  Cai writes:

An old Chinese manuscript that ended up in America chronicled that during the early Ming dynasty, sometime in the fourteenth or the fifteenth century, there lived a man named Wan Hu who attempted a bold experiment.  He made two large kites and attached them to either side of a chair.  Then he strapped forty-seven rockets underneath the chair, sat down, and had his assistants light the fireworks.  In the midst of loud bangs and spurts from the rockts, Wan vanished in a cloud of smoke and flame.  Humankind's first attempt to fly a manned rocket was not a success.  In a book from 1945, American science writer Herbert Zim describes Wan as the first person to attempt to use rockets as a vehicle.  Wan is also mentioned in a Society textbook on rocket science as the first visionary to attempt to carry a man into space using solid fuel rockets. Thus, when US astronauts landed on the moon, they named a crater after Wan Hu, the Wan-Hoo crater.

For many years now, whenever Wan comes to mind, I find myself strangely moved and longing for the day when I might fulfill his aspiration and launch a chair into space using rockets.

Although Wan Hu's story was originally retold for Sky Ladder, it became especially resonant this year when Cai began his three-city solo exhibition in Brazil, Da Vincis do Povo.  Both show similar motifs of whimsical contraptions and, more importantly, the DYI creative spirit embodied in everyone.


Cai Guo-Qiang Studio