Exhibition Review: Cai Guo-Qiang – “Peasant Da Vincis”

Cai Presents Work By Nine “DIY Inventors” At Newly Reopened Shanghai Rockbund Art Museum

Cai Guo-qiang (L) walks besides peasant inventors of "Cai Guoqiang, Peasant Da Vincis" Exhibition in the Rockbund Art Museum (Photo: People's Daily)

Cai Guo-qiang (L) walks besides peasant inventors of "Cai Guoqiang, Peasant Da Vincis" Exhibition in the Rockbund Art Museum (Photo: People's Daily)

In March, Jing Daily translated an Artron article (Chinese) about the new exhibition being prepared by Cai Guo-Qiang, one of China’s most celebrated contemporary artists, for the restored Rockbund Art Museum. (a 1930s-era Art Deco building that formerly housed the Royal Asiatic Society.) As we wrote at that time, the new exhibition planned by Cai, “Peasant da Vincis” (农民达芬奇), would populate the impressive exhibition space at Rockbund with the homemade creations of nine rural Chinese inventors, including a helicopter, a submarine, and a selection of robots.

On May 4, “Peasant da Vincis” opened to the public, just in time for the Shanghai World Expo, and there’s been plenty of coverage this week in the English-language press, noting the contrast between the amateur, DIY spirit of the work of these “Peasant da Vincis” and the polished, corporate image of the World Expo. From People’s Daily:

Exploring the subject of individual creativity, “Cai Guo0qiang, Peasant Da Vincis”, coincides with the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, where countries and companies exhibit their latest invention in political, economic, technological and cultural strengths. “Cai Guo-Qiang, Peasant Da Vincis”, presents stories of peasant inventors all over China who show great enthusiasm and courage in the pursuit of their dreams. Besides, exhibiting a large number of inventions, the project will invite the peasant inventors to recreat their works and demonstrate how this inventions work on site. In order to encourage public discussion on this apparently rough and amateurish hand-built creations as well as their aesthetics and social and cultural connotations.

These works are representations of the wildest imagination, some of which even defy basic engineering principles. The exhibition also intends to provide a platform for discussions on the social transformation of hundreds of millions of peasants in the modernization process in China and their huge contributions to urban development. The theme of the exhibition “Peasants–making a better city a better life” corresponse with the “Better City Better Life” theme of the 2010 World Expo, expressing a collective wish for better life in a brighter future.

As a creator, planner and artist of this inaugural exhiibition, Cai Guoqiang has been collecting inventions by peasants such as homemade plains, helicopters, flying saucers, submarines, racing cars and robots, for many years, he has commissioned a peasant inventor to make an aircraft carrier to function as a gigantic spatial-temporal installation that encompasses various social elements and media.

A short video introduction to the project can be viewed on Cai’s website. “Peasant da Vincis” will be on display at the Rockbund Art Museum through July 25. Tickets are 15 yuan for adults (US$2.20) and 10 yuan (US$1.46) for students.

The interior of the museum is airy and modern

The interior of the museum is airy and modern

A "peasant-made" submarine at the exhibition

A "peasant-made" submarine at the exhibition

Tao Xiangli's aircraft carrier

Tao Xiangli's aircraft carrier

Cai (in blue jacket) introduces a handmade helicopter

Cai (in blue jacket) introduces a handmade helicopter

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