Go Deeper Cai Guo-Qiang returns to Philadelphia with "Fireflies"

Cai Guo-Qiang returns to Philadelphia with “Fireflies”

Posted July 24th, 2017

Beginning September 15th and on through October 8th, Fireflies will light up the evenings on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. This new outdoors, public artwork by internationally renowned artist Cai Guo-Qiang will consist of dozens of handmade lanterns adorning the sides of pedal operated carts, or “pedicabs.” The lanterns, of all shapes and sizes, will bounce and jostle with the movement of the pedicabs, flickering like fireflies, as operators drive the pedicabs up and down the parkway after dusk. Anyone can ride in one of the twenty-seven pedicabs, for free. The presentation will coincide with Philadelphia’s Parkway 100 Celebration, the 100th anniversary of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. “As art and spectacle,” the artist explains, “the work will be at once grounded, aesthetic, and transcendental. The number 27—as a multiple of nine—recalls the Chinese homophone for eternity and celebrates the longevity of the scenic Parkway.”

"Fallen Blossoms" at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2009

“Fallen Blossoms” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2009

Cai Guo-Qiang is well known for his many highly renowned projects around the world, such as designing the fireworks for the Opening Ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He often works with explosive materials and is an expert in using fireworks to create his art. He previously collaborated with the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2009, with an explosion that became a floating flower blossom made from fire and smoke, part of his “Fallen Blossoms” project (a series of exploding works of art also held at the Fabric Workshop and Museum). He was born in Quanzhou City, in the Fujian Province in China. The lanterns hark back in part to his childhood memories of traditional lantern festivals in his hometown. Cai brings together installation art, drawing, video, and performance art in his work. His work draws upon Eastern philosophy as well as contemporary culture. He wants viewers to engage with the culture and history of location, while contemplating the larger universe, through the site-specific spectacles that he creates.

Dream at Villa Manin Centre for Contemporary Art, Udine, 2008.

This time, Cai is bringing his work to Philadelphia by working with the Association for Public Art, or aPA, which has been active in the city since 1872. Cai is also working with Fung Collaboratives, a group that brings forth both emerging and established artists in intimate and ambitious projects with domestic and international settings. Both organizations work with innovative artists to create public art that is interactive, beautiful, and imbued with the culture and history of its location.

Check out this video trailer for Fireflies:

Fireflies will be presented from September 15 to October 8, Thursday through Sunday evenings, from 6pm to 10pm. You can sign up ahead of time, and there will be access for walkup riders. Sister Cities Park and at Iroquouis Park will act as hubs, and each will provide a different route, up or down the Parkway. There will be an opening celebration on Thursday, September 14th featuring a Fireflies performance directed by Cai. aPA Public Art Ambassadors will be available at each site to assist participants, provide information, and solicit feedback.

—Isabella Siegel