BURO Spotlights: ‘When the Sky Blooms with Sakura’ by Cai Guo-Qiang, commissioned by Saint Laurent
Art + Design

BURO Spotlights: ‘When the Sky Blooms with Sakura’ by Cai Guo-Qiang, commissioned by Saint Laurent

Explosive art


By Sarah Hani Jamil

On a warm summer morning in Japan at the end of June, I journeyed on a serene three-hour car ride outside Tokyo to the Northeast town of Iwaki, Fukushima, with the French luxury brand Saint Laurent. The beautiful coastal community holds a significant meaning to Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang—whose work is commissioned by Creative Director Anthony Vaccarello to promote the Maison’s creative ventures beyond fashion—and has been his home in Japan for the last nine years with his wife, Hong Hong. It is also a town deeply devastated by the harrowing Tohuku Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011.

I arrived at Yotsukara Beach, Iwaki, to beautiful, clear blue skies, providing the perfect setting for Cai’s daytime fireworks display—a first for Japan. Titled ‘When the Sky Blooms with Sakura’, the project pays tribute to the lives lost that fateful day and serves as a reminder of the harm humans have inflicted upon nature.



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A post shared by Cai Guo-Qiang 蔡國強 (@caistudio)


For the uninitiated to Cai’s over 40-year-long career, his work is underscored by a fascination with the universe, extraterrestrials and the unseen world. In fact, on numerous occasions, he has explored the possibility of life in outer space in his work, specifically in his 1986 piece, Project for the Extraterrestrials, comprising a series of explosion events that aim to establish a connection with aliens. 

"My early interest in the cosmic space was extended into the internal universe and life. Additional elements added to my arsenal include feng shui, Chinese medicine and herbal medicine."


Recognised for his pioneering usage of gunpowder in art and his grand outdoor explosion events, Cai’s works are influenced by his sensitive reflections on social issues and his surroundings. The globally acclaimed artist has worked and lived in New York since 1995 with various projects and exhibitions worldwide and has even held the role of Director of Visual and Special Effects for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.


Art in the sky

For approximately thirty minutes, against the backdrop of the sea, 40,000 choreographed fireworks were launched into the sky, creating a magnificent 400-metre-wide and 130-metre-high spectacle. Setting the scene for each explosion, Cai shares the stories of each ‘act’ with his audience. The mighty ‘Black Waves’ symbolises the pain of the past, whilst the chilling white wall of smoke, dubbed ‘Memorial Monument’, represents mourning for the devastation of the tsunami, pandemic and previous wars.

The mood was not all sombre and solemn, though—in the latter part of the show, bright and joyful pink fireworks emerged like a cluster of sakura in the sky, conveying the artist and Iwaki’s hope and dreams for the future. The “sakura blooms” echoes the ongoing ‘Project to Plant Ten Thousand Cherry Blossom Trees’, initiated by the people of the town, which aims to transform the land contaminated by the disaster at the nuclear power plant into a pink sea of sakura that can be when viewed even from outer space in the years to come.


Watch the beauty of the project here:




‘Ramble in the Cosmos’ 


The daytime explosions project in Iwaki serves as a prelude to Cai’s exhibition in the National Art Center Tokyo‘s Special Exhibition Gallery, co-presented by Saint Laurent, running now until the 21st of August 2023. Expect an immersive exhibition of Cai’s works, from his 1991 Primeval Fireball to some of his recent creations today, which include kinetic LED light installations titled Encounter with the Unknown. This series features lit-up objects such as UFOs, planets, wormholes and more, depicting his longstanding yearning and curiosity about the universe. Approximately 50 works will be on display, including pieces from Cai’s personal collection. It’s one exhibition you won’t want to miss if you’re in Toyko in the next two months.



The National Art Center, Tokyo, is located at 7 Chome-22-2 Roppongi, Minato CityFor more information on the exhibition, click here.


For more art and design stories, click here.

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