02 Jul 2023
On June 26th at 12:00 PM, contemporary artist Cai Guo-Qiang realized the daytime fireworks When the Sky Blooms with Sakura at Yotsukura Beach in Iwaki City, an area which had been devastated by the 2011 Japan earthquake and the resulting tsunami.
As part of the commitment to creative excellence beyond fashion and driven by the admiration towards Cai Guo-Qiang’s art and forward-thinking vision, Anthony Vaccarello commissioned the project for SAINT LAURENT, organized by the Iwaki Executive Committee of When the Sky Blooms with Sakura.
Over approximately thirty minutes, 40,000 choreographed fireworks shells were launched between the sea and the sky, creating a magnificent 400-meter-wide and 130-meter-high spectacle. The event marked Japan’s first daytime fireworks display and also preluded Cai’s solo exhibition Ramble in the Cosmos – From Primeval Fireball Onward, at the National Art Center, Tokyo, which opens on June 29th.
Cai lived in Japan for nearly nine years, starting from December 1986. In 1988, he arrived in Iwaki, a coastal town of Fukushima, which became a special place in his life and art – it grew to be his «revolutionary base area» in Japan and almost felt like another hometown.
In 1993, Cai lived for seven months along the Yotsukura Beach in Iwaki, preparing for From the Pan-Pacific, his first solo exhibition at a public art museum in Japan. He worked together with local residents and proposed the motto: «To create work here, to have a dialogue with the universe from here, to create a story of the era with the people living here.»
In 1994, Cai’s explosion event The Horizon from the Pan-Pacific laid out a 5,000-meter-long line of fire, realized with five gunpowder fuses, on the surface of the sea near Iwaki in the pitch-black night. The flash from the gunpowder explosions drew the contours of the earth. The spirit of the artwork’s dialogue with the universe had resonated with the local community, who were inspired to participate in the artwork by purchasing the gunpowder fuse, at a rate of 1,000 yen per meter. They also initiated a collective action of turning off the lights in every household during the event, to make the earth’s outline more beautiful for the universe to witness.
Over the next thirty years, Cai and his friends in Iwaki set sail together, starting from collaborations in a small fishing village and on to the world. Over the years, they have witnessed each other’s hair becoming grey and their movements less nimble. They were fortunate to have each other as invaluable companions throughout their lives. Cai’s story with Iwaki continues.
When the Sky Blooms with Sakura began solemnly, representing a requiem for the departed and the harm humans have inflicted upon nature. The scene «Black Waves» confronted the pain of the past, while the white «Memorial Monument» symbolized a grand mourning for the suffering experienced during the pandemic and in wars.
In the latter half of the display, a romantic cluster of sakura clouds – portrayed through specially-designed pink fireworks – conveyed collective hope and dreams. The instant bloom of the sakura in the sky above Fukushima echoed the ongoing Project to Plant Ten Thousand Cherry Blossom Trees, initiated by Cai’s friends in Iwaki, and carried out with Cai’s support, after the 2011 Japan earthquake. This project envisions a future where the land contaminated by the disaster at the nuclear power plant becomes a pink sea of sakura when viewed from afar.
On the day of the daytime fireworks, Cai expressed:
«Thank you to the beautiful sea and sky of Yotsukura, and the rare cooperation and companionship of the sound of the wind and waves in this worrisome June... Mankind today is facing various challenges such as coexisting with the pandemic, economic decline, deglobalization, and increased national and cultural conflicts. Through the sakura in the sky, I was expressing the story of the friendship between the people of Iwaki and me, which transcends politics and history, and I hope that the artwork will inspire the world with faith and hope.»