Cai Guo-Qiang is a Chinese artist based in New York. One of his mediums is gunpowder, one of his native country’s most spectacular and ancient inventions. And this is his latest sculpture, the 500-meter Sky Ladder, which lived its brief two-and-a-half-minute life at Huiyu Island Harbour, Quanzhou, Fujian, last month.
The Sky Ladder is an actual rope ladder hoisted into the sky by helium balloon. The ladder was covered in gunpowder, and, when lit, resulted in the fiery spectacle you see here. Qiang describes his gunpowder works–which he began experimenting with in 1985–as “unpredictable splendor.” And unpredictable is right. This is his fourth attempt to get the one-third-of-a-mile-long artwork launched and glowing. Previous attempts included a piece at the L.A. Museum of Contemporary Art.
Qiang’s previous work includes the equally epic Project to Extend the Great Wall of China by 10,000 Meters: Project for Extraterrestrials No. 10 (1993), a 6-mile gunpowder trail that ran from the western end of China’s Great Wall, and off into the Gobi Desert. Qiang lit it at dusk, and the fuse burned across the desert for around 15 minutes, like a scene from a surreal Road Runner cartoon.