Cai Cuo-Qiang’s wolves appear to move with all the slow-motion majesty of a John Woo gun fight, and like the heroes in his movies, they are all destined to die in style. His installation is not just visually stunning. The whole idea of wolves going head on into collision is a powerful demonstration of tragic herd instinct. The compelling tendency to be a part of the majority, however fatal.
Looking at the massive loop of frozen movement leaping into destruction with an air of wounded silence, the poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson, Charge Of the Light Brigade, came rushing back:
Forward, the Light Brigade!
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Someone had blunder’d:
Their’s not to make reply,
Their’s not to reason why,
Their’s but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
The 99 wolves are charging into a wall that is transparent. So their actions are not against apparent logic. It is against better judgement. On closer inspection, they all look focused and ferocious. Such savage dedication to mindless death is worth reflecting.
Is the folly of conformity involuntary? When does the collective human race use all its might and intelligence only for its own demise? When does the individual being, exercising rational behaviour, discovers he is only moving down into a dead-end? And why are wolves more a herd animal than a dog? What is the destiny of the lone dog taking the road less travelled?
The drop-dead impact of Cai Guo-Qiang’s explosive works are the vanguard of Chinese contemporary art. He is an innovator who came from outside the establishment, a structuralist against the grain whose sheer genius pulled him to the red-hot centre of a borderless art movement. He has demonstrated time and agian that he cannot and will not conform. His was a lone fight of self-expression. Global accolades made him an icon of cutting edge art which his own government needed to acknowledge. The Chinese only started to learn more about him through his fireworks at the opening ceremony of the Olympics.
Unlike his wolves, Cai has made the choice to not just survive but to prevail. He has gone against the tide with every piece of his work. With ‘Head-On’, he has more than turned the tide.