Artist Cai Guo-Qiang Takes His Fireworks Finesse to Virtual Reality with Forbidden City Video

The new artwork is part of a giant retrospective of his work on display in Beijing

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6:28 AM HKT, Fri January 15, 2021 1 mins read

Cai Guo-Qiang — world-famous for his firework displays and gunpowder paintings — recently unveiled his first-ever virtual reality artwork, Sleepwalking in the Forbidden City.

Cai Guo-Qiang VR

The project is currently on display only at Beijing’s Palace Museum — for now — as part of his new, 800-piece plus retrospective, “Odyssey and Homecoming.” The expansive show coincides with the 600th anniversary of the historical Forbidden City.

Watch the one-minute trailer here:

Though Cai is perhaps best known for works that blend painting and pyrotechnics, this is seemingly the first time that he has used VR for a public project. “My instinct is that since VR can represent the surreal and the invisible, it should be incorporated into my work in a more unique way — a way that gives it its own distinct artistic language,” Cai told The Art Newspaper of Sleepwalking in the Forbidden City.

In the exhibition, accompanying the five-minute VR film is a gunpowder drawing and a massive alabaster model of the Forbidden City, which Cai used to set the stage for the colorful, digitized fireworks display.

Cai Guo-Qiang VR

Born in the city of Quanzhou in southeastern China’s Fujian province, Cai was based in the US until recently, but relocated to Beijing last November.

In September last year, he livestreamed an explosive daytime fireworks show entitled The Birth of Tragedy, intended as an artistic response to the pandemic, at France’s Charente River.

Cai Guo-Qiang VR

Cai Guo-Qiang VR


There’s sadly no news yet on whether the full film will be available for viewing outside of China anytime soon. For readers in Beijing, Sleepwalking in the Forbidden City is on display until February 5, 2021, at the Palace Museum.

All images: Stills from Sleepwalking in the Forbidden City (2020), courtesy Cai Studio

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