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Questions of Practice: Artist Cai Guo-Qiang on Audience Participation in Public Art

In advance of the Association for Public Art’s September 14 world premiere of Fireflies, a large-scale, interactive work by Cai Guo-Qiang, we sat down with the artist to learn about his vision for the project as a celebration of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway’s centennial. Cai says the pedicabs and colorful lanterns that carry passengers along the Philadelphia boulevard will “bring people closer” in a “celebration [that] can be participatory.”

With Center support, the Association for Public Art commissioned Cai Guo-Qiang to create Fireflies, on view September 14–October 8, 2017, as a celebration of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway’s centennial. Composed of 27 custom pedicabs adorned with 900 luminous lanterns, Fireflies was Cai’s largest public art project in the US in a decade.

Cai Guo-Qiang’s practice spans a range of media in contemporary art, including drawing, installation, video, and performance art, alongside Chinese traditions in medicine, art, and placemaking. Internationally known for his virtuosic and poetic use of fireworks and gunpowder, the artist has been honored with numerous awards, including the 48th Venice Biennale International Golden Lion Prize and the U.S. Department of State Medal of Arts. Most recently, his work has been featured in The Spirit of Painting: Cai Guo-Qiang at the Prado in Madrid, Spain. Cai is also known for his work as the Director of Visual and Special Effects for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.