Cai Guo-Qiang: 1040M Underground. Solo Exhibition at Izolyatsia Art Center in Donetsk, Ukraine

Izolyatsia is a new art center in the industrial city of Donetsk, Ukraine. The center just opened with a solo exhibition of Cai Guo-Qiang. The show titled 1040M Underground is New York-based artist Cai Guo-Qiang’s first solo exhibition in Ukraine. The title is inspired by the artist’s experience of the coal and salt mines of Ukraine’s industrial Donbas region. During his visit, Cai Guo-Qiang followed the coal miners on their way 1040 meters below ground level and into the more than 1000 meters long tunnel of the mine.

While Oligarch Victor Pinchuk has put Ukraine on the contemporary art map with his art center in Ukraine’s capital Kiew, Donetsk is rather known for its steel plants, coal mines and its football teams than for contemporary art. Luba Michailova seeks to change this with her arts foundation named Izolyatsia Platform for Cultural Initiatives. The center is located on the territory of a former insulation materials plant with the same name. The center’s aim is to preserve the industrial heritage of the region as well as inspire cultural and social development. Apart from realizing site-specific projects, Izolyatsia launched an educational program and has a residency program for young Ukrainian artists.

Inspired by his visit to the Donbas region, Cai Guo-Qiang conceived two site-specific installations. In the main gallery of Izolyatsia Cai Guo-Qiang shows a gunpowder drawing installation whose making process took place in front of a live audience. The installation titled Monuments on Shoulders is based on 27 portraits that nine local Socialist realist painters have made from 27 mine workers. All 27 portraits have been ignited using different grades and grains of gunpowder and then mounted on frames identical to the ones used to hold the portraits of Soviet leaders in propaganda parades.

The second installation titled Nursery Rhymes is presented in the remnants of a factory building that was destroyed by a fire. Nine used mining carts are lined-up, rocking slowly like cradles. Each mining cart contains a projection on the canopy. They show Soviet era films showing Ukrainian musicians, Soviet era athletes, communist propaganda, and art films. The installation is completed by salvaged objects from the days of the factory, such as tiny chessboards from the factory kindergarten, and old workers’ uniforms and tools, preserved by Izolyatsia Founder Luba Michailova’s father, the former Director of the Izolyatsia plant during the Soviet era.

Cai Guo-Qiang was born in 1957 in Quanzhou City, China. He works in a variety of media such as drawing, installation, video and performance art. He is best known for his experiments with gunpowder, from utilizing it for drawings to large-scale explosion events. Cai was awarded many renowned art prizes such as the Golden Lion at the 48th Venice Biennale in 1999, the Japan Cultural Design Prize in 1995, and the 7th Hiroshima Art Prize in 2007. In 2008/2009 his work was shown in a major retrospective titled I Want to Believe in the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, and the National Art Museum of China in Beijing. Upcoming exhibitions include solo shows at the Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, Qatar, and at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

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Cai Guo-Qiang: 1040M Underground. Solo Exhibition at Izolyatsia Platform For Cultural Initiatives in Donetsk, Ukraine. Opening reception, August 26, 2011. The exhibition runs until November 13, 2011.

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Cai Guo-Qiang: 1040M Underground Press Preview. Exhibition walk-through with Luba Michailova and Cai Guo-Qiang (33:48 min.):

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