Response to Cai Guo-Qiang (Three Poems)

Cai Guo-Qiang

He works with energy — I so admire —
on paper higher than a wall and broad.
An emptiness so vast that I am awed,
but he with glee arranges bricks and wire.

With gunpowder he draws.This  does require
great lengths of string with powder stuffed, pulled taut
then delicately sprinkled.  Finely wrought
the image, his desire, is ready now for fire.

He lights the fuse, the moment sought has come:
the flames race briskly ‘cross the wide expanse.
It crackles, smokes, explodes.  I am struck dumb
with sheer delight.  He acts.  I’m in a trance.
Detritus with all speed is moved aside
The work is hung, admired far and wide.


Rent Collection Courtyard, Beijing and New York City

“Behold this monument to cruelty and pain,
a pain eradicated now through people’s rule!”
This message meant to outlast time is but a tool
nudging a nation’s memory for present gain.

Those statues, reinvented, stand here to explain
that, wrought in clay which cracks and crumbles, they can’t fool
us into thinking misery is gone– nor school
our feelings so.  Patiently waiting we disdain

such comfort, as we see these statues turn to dust.
The only lasting elements are space and time,
another constant being energy, as shown
in art by Cai with flame.  But entropy here must
be seen as the pervasive force.  It reigns sublime
as solid seeming statues fade, become unknown.

99 Hurling wolves, an installation created for the Berlin Guggenheim

Hemmed by convention or by written law
we tend to seek our freedom as we speed
towards obstructions, which, not seen, may lead
to violent death. Too late now to withdraw.

The damage done, the wolves insanely claw
that wall so clear, so rigid.  None will heed
a comrade’s death and hastily recede.
Onward with matted fur and bloodied maw,

velocity will bring extinction soon.
But now the wall is down.  This chapter’s closed.
A people reunited felt restored.
But many problems were by change imposed
gone was that postwar economic boon;
yet happiness had, for a moment, soared.

Comments: Renata wrote these sonnets in 2008, in reaction to the art installations by artist Cai Guo-Qiang at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin, Germany. Describing the sonnets she wrote in reaction to Cai Guo-Qiang’s work, Renata writes:  “My sonnets are not critical appraisals, rather they are tributes because, looking at them they enabled me to put certain thoughts into words. ”

More information about Cai Guo-Qiang’s work, including a biography and information about several exhibitions and art installations, can also be found on his page at

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