Gunpowder’s long journey from medicine to art

Gunpowder is generally accepted as having been discovered by Chinese alchemists in the 9th century. Its discovery was most likely an accidental by-product of a search for medicines to prolong life. Since its discovery, gunpowder is probably most well-known for its use in weapons and fireworks. Now, however, a Chinese contemporary artist, Cai Guo-Qiang is using it in art.

Last November, a set of 14 paintings by Mr. Cai broke the record for the highest price paid for a lot of contemporary Chinese art. The price tag? A cool US$9.5 million at an auction in Hong Kong. What was unusual about the paintings was that they were done in gunpowder and ink. Mr. Cai has also used gunpowder in pieces that include large-scale explosions. One piece, entitled Project for Extraterrestrials 9: Fetus Movement II, covered an area of 15,000 square meters and used 90 kilograms of gunpowder.

Those attending the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics will get a chance to see works specially conceived for the Olympics as he is a core member of the artistic creative team.

To learn more about Cai Guo-Qiang, you can visit his website: