Addressing "peasant" culture and creativity, the exhibition "Cai Guo-Qiang: Peasant Da Vincis," organized and curated by the artist at the Rockbund Art Museum in China, raises contemporary questions in the world's most populous nation. The first question regards the "visibility" of the portion of the population that, due to great sacrifice, has allowed for unparalleled global economic and social development. We ask Cai how his sculpture, and the amateur machine-makers he finds all over the Chinese countryside, attest to these changes:
GERMANO CELANT: As an artist, and an internationally recognized one, you emphasize the creative and participatory contribution of this political class, which has been a true resource for rebirth and changes in China. Apart from the artistic aspect of the operation, what is the political aspect for you?
CAI GUO-QIANG: The official slogan of the 2010 World Expo Shanghai is "Better city, better life." In response, I proposed "Peasants—Making a better city, a better life," and the title of the exhibition is "Peasant Da Vincis" because the highways and skyscrapers in cities across China are built by migrant workers from rural areas. These workers are the reason that the country is the world's largest factory. In present-day Chinese society, the pressing political issues are not only about granting these workers their civil rights. There are other critical issues, like whether China can transform itself into a society with creative potential, whether the government can narrow the gap between rich and poor, and sustain a stable path of social development. Chinese society is at a historical turning point, and it is going through a transition at a fundamental level. The days of mass cheap labor—the age of exploitation—are no longer sustainable or acceptable; otherwise the people will revolt.
Collage and acrylic on paper, thread, string, plastic lid
48 x 30 ¼ in.