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LOOK & LISTEN: Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang

Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang showcases the artist's attempt to launch a 500 meter gunpowder ladder into the sky in 2015.

The documentary acts as a retrospective on his extensive career and explores the strong influences of his family and childhood. We are introduced to his grandmother, who was the first person to believe in him as an artist, and his father, who pressed upon him the importance of education and the exploration of knowledge.

Guo-Qiang first investigates the possibilities of gunpowder on the surface of a canvas, then begins to explore the world of firework performance. "Sky Ladder" presents footage from the Shanghai exhibit "Cai Guo-Qiang: The Ninth Wave” and its opening explosion event, in which biodegradable colours filled the sky in the breathtaking riverfront display. This film highlights and analyzes his ability to walk the line between art and entertainment, and explores the affects of international fame on a creative practice. Jennifer Wen Ma, a former director of Cai Studio, asks the camera, "When you’ve gone as far as he has, how do you challenge yourself?"

Sky Ladder is a piece Guo-Qiang had attempted three times previous to the creation of this film, in 1994, 2001, and 2012. The final successful moment in 2015 is witnessed only by a few hundred people and the documentary cameras, which poetically captured the so-called impossible feat. It was most important to Guo Qiang that the piece be seen by his grandmother, who passed away a month after viewing Sky Ladder's triumph.

At the beginning of the documentary, Cia Guo-Qiang states, "playing with gunpowder set me free." This freedom is evident throughout the whole film, as you watch his confidence in and knowledge of the material cultivate over decades of producing work. We loved the heartwarming way he is able to overcome all odds and honour his family. When interviewed by Art Net, Guo-Qiang offers, “I hope this movie will encourage a lot more young artists. It’s not easy to be an artist, but it’s very meaningful.” Watch Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang to restore your faith that anything is possible.

Sky Ladder is currently on Netflix.

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