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Visionary, or Psychedelic, art does not stop in the physical plane, but attempts to show a world beyond the three dimensions. The genre was pioneered by such artists as Hieronymus Bosch of Holland, whose mid-fifteenth century paintings were rich with the grotesque and the fantastic, and William Blake, who painted and wrote poems in eighteenth century England. Rising in popularity with the new age movement, Visionary art can now be seen in a great variety of media, from paintings to postcards to t-shirts.

The seven-day Burning Man Festival, beginning on the last Monday of August, is held in the vast desert of Nevada. Since it is a fusion of the Visionary art movement and the rave scene, the event is considered to be the biggest of the year by many Visionary art admirers. In 1986, a man living in San Francisco burned a life-sized doll in effigy as a way of forgetting his troubles with his ex-girlfriend. This act of burning a life-size doll caught the eye of many artists. Afterwards, this ritual grew in popularity until it developed into an established event amongst youth interested in new age culture and amongst artists. Now, the event draws about 40,000 people from around the world and is seen as a revival of the hippie movement of the seventies.

Alex Grey can claim great support and popularity amongst those who attend the Burning Man Festival. In his work, Grey applies intricate, complicated composition with skillful technique to express the connections between man, the universe, and the spiritual world. His activities as an artist are not limited to painting, also including such diverse forms as sculpture, installation art, and performance art.

His audience tonight gathered in the narrow gallery entrance. Of the nearly 200 people, nearly half had come from all corners of the United States, especially the West Coast. Others heralded from as far away as Brazil, Germany, Australia, and Japan. Alex Grey made his appearance amongst them. With his beautiful, delicate air, it was hard to imagine where he kept the energy to create his powerful artworks hidden.

With Grey at the lead, the audience headed to the back of the usually calm and serene gallery. As they entered, it was immediately buried in the overwhelming enthusiasm of the crowd. Like the Mandala of Tibetan Buddhism, a distinctive feature of Grey's work is the deep symbolism hidden within the colorful detail. This tour would provide a perfect opportunity to learn about these buried riddles and symbols from the man himself.

Because of the influence of his graphic designer father, Grey was awakened to art early. But, he was equally unable to suppress his deep interest in life and death; drawing pictures of the dead bodies of bugs and small animals he collected in the backyard as a young boy. He was generally acknowledged as an excellent painter. However, as an impressionable youth against the backdrop of the rise of the hippie movement, pop culture, and minimalism in 1970's America, he fell naturally into conceptual and performance art.

After that, his life had changed, and his current style was formed. At a party on his last day at the Boston Museum School, he met Allyson, the woman who would become the love of his life. At this time, he also had his first experience with LSD, which led to a metamorphosis in his worldview and outlook on life.

Alex Grey told the audience during the talk that, on his first trip, he had a vision of a spiral of light and darkness. This vision inspired his next work, which used black and white to symbolize light and darkness, with a grey area in the center that connected the two extremes. For the artist, the color grey exists to act as an intermediary bridging the gap between the polarities of the world, such as light and dark, materialism and spirituality, man and woman, life and death, the self and one's surroundings, and the earth and the cosmos. In the world of Grey's art, it is the responsibility of people to bear this role. On the basis of this visual trip, Grey changed his name from "Alex Velzy" to "Alex Grey," and began to use LSD regularly.

Grey openly uses drugs to create his art, explaining that it is one way of reaching a visionary state. He explains that Visionary art expresses the realm of the imagination, and that it provides a lens for peeking into the multi-dimensional world. He uses drugs of his own will to fulfill his appointed task of being a missionary between the cosmos and the spiritual world on one side and the real world on the other. He has a warning for those who would follow his path of drug use. He warns that drugs are illegal, and gives the example of one of his friends who is still serving a 20-year sentence for drug abuse. When young people ask him about drugs he responds seriously and philosophically by asking what the task was that they were given.

Grey's works leave a strong impression with their vivid colors, surrealistic ideas, and symbolism. These paintings of a multi-dimensional world are able to capture concepts and sensations that we are usually unable to visualize. This visualized reality was obtained through his use of psychedelic drugs such as LSD. In many of his works, the ideologies and messages from his search for universal truth are expressed in detail. These details come from the visions and symbols of religions and philosophies like Tibetan Buddhism, Christianity, Kabbalah, and Sufism, about which he has studied in his quest for truth.

In Grey's multi-dimensional works, man and his body usually play a central role. During his nearly five years working at the Anatomy Department of Harvard University, he studied anatomy, parapsychology and Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism. After this, he began to do anatomical illustration work. The bodies that Grey draws show not only the bones, muscles, and nerves, but also the pressure points and vital lines used in Oriental medicine.

Grey explained to us, with a twinkle in his eye that our bodies are temples and that we live in wonderful, miraculous temples. The people he draws mediate between various dimensions like the cosmos, the inner self, and different realities using the Shamanistic method of transfiguration. Humans have an important meaning in the worldview of his artwork.

Grey feels deep misgivings about modern art. He says that art is meant to reflect the inner self and he worries that if contemporary art continues along its current path, it is in danger of becoming meaningless and irrelevant. He wants to plant the universal truths he reveals in his artwork into the consciousness of the people. In the future, he has plans to build a base for his art and ideological activities in the suburbs of New York, and to hold a new exhibition in the fall of 2007.

Based on his work and his history, one would naturally imagine Grey to be eccentric. However, while he is full of passion, he is not aggressive, and is actually a very intelligent and thoughtful person. I was deeply impressed when, after speaking for two hours in the hot gallery, he still took the time to reply politely to the requests of those who wanted to speak with him directly.


Text by Reimi Takeuchi & Sai Morikawa, Photo by Ryu Kodama
PR

China-born artist Cai Guo-Qiang is known for his dynamic installations with fireworks. Now, based in New York, he works worldwide as one of the top Asian artists. COOL asks him what he thinks about the art scenes of New York and Asia from the artist’s perspective. Also, we will show you his latest installation and its press preview exhibited now at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.


----- About his production in New York

COOL: What made you move to New York?

Cai Guo-Qiang: I first move to Japan from China in 1986 and lived there for 8 years and a half. I had mostly been in Asia since I was born in China and worked in Japan. Even when I started to work in Europe in the early 90's, I was there just to attend the exhibitions most of the time and didn't have chances to get to know European people there. In America, there weren't that many opportunities for me either. But, as a contemporary artist, I always wanted to live and work in America or Europe so that I could expand my career. At that time, it had been said that the 20th century was about American justice, so I wanted to actually live and work in the country like that and obtain some thoughts. In 1991, I was requested to join ACC (*US-Japan Creative Arts Fellowship; one of Japan's international exchange funds) by America, but I was turned down because I wasn't Japanese.

Later, from around 1994, I began showing my installations at various international exhibitions as a Japanese contemporary artist and being invited to international exhibitions overseas by foreign ministries and embassies. Then, I started to be recognized as one of the Japanese artists. In 1995, America again requested me to join ACC and I was accepted this time, and I could finally come to America

C: What does New York mean to you?

Cai Guo-Qiang: Living in New York is like being in the large park of the world. Like, people all over the world gather at the park called New York and communicate each other. You don't have to go out to meet people because people get together naturally. So, now it is much more convenient when it comes to work.

C: How do you think Asian arts are recognized in America?

Cai Guo-Qiang: I don't think American people see Asian arts as exotic, which Europeans do. America is a multi-cultural country, so people get interested in Asian arts not because it is a foreign culture. Here we have various cultures like Asian, Latin, and African. For example, if an Asian-themed exhibition is held in America, it won't be reviewed or recognized in terms of its Asian ethnicity. Rather, being recognized and successful in America means that the works and productions of the artists themselves are recognized (regardless of its ethnicity). When I look at Asian artists in Berlin or Paris, I sometimes wonder if, even though they are loved by people there, they and their works are recognized in the right way. In that respect, I appreciate that Americans review the works honestly in a non-biased way. Recently, Mr. Murakami* (Japanese Artist Takashi Murakami) received recognitions from American people. That’s not because they like Japan, but because what he does and his pieces are fun and interesting to them.

C: What are the differences between America and Japan regarding your production?

Cai Guo-Qiang: Firstly, I thought Japan was great because it was a modernized and democratized country. In addition, people were very kind. Japan was a great country for an amateur and young artist like me. One of the reasons is that galleries in Japan generally have a vanity gallery system, which offers places where young artists can show their works. When I went to Iwaki city in Fukushima, I collaborated with the locals and made the installation called "Horizon― Pacific-Rim." I felt that the piece was loved by people in Iwaki and that the town united as one. Back in those days, the Japanese art world was accredited for its modernization and globalization, but also criticized because it looked westernized. I was in Japan at that time, so I could learn a lot from the trend of the Japanese art world, the atmosphere of the society, and being surrounded by many of those criticisms and views. Japan is an easy place to collaborate with local people. I often tell young people (in Japan) that it is hard to struggle in New York at a young age. So I rather recommend that they come to America after finding their own styles or what they really want to do by trying anything that they want to try while in Japan. As America has well-developed systems of the arts (museums, galleries, collectors, auction houses, and media), I think it is easier to start careers in America after gaining certain skills.

C: What are you feeling after you actually started working in America?

Cai Guo-Qiang: America is rough and tough. But that's also a good thing. For example, when I was working in Japan, the reviews about my works were mostly good ones. In America, I get both good reviews and harsh criticisms.

C: Have you found anything awkward?

Cai Guo-Qiang: Yes, a lot. In Japan, I could collaborate with locals and make pieces together. Since I speak Japanese, I could explain the concepts of my works in my own words. Also, because Asian philosophy was born in China, it was easy for me, from the same "Asian" ethnic group, to get my intensions across. In America, it is hard for me to explain the concepts and philosophies in English. Besides, since everything is about business here, collaborating with locals encompasses many problems. For instance, even when you hire volunteers, you have to make contracts to make it clear that who is responsible in case something happens. Collaborations with locals in America are harder to realize.


----- About his installations

C: Tell us about your recent works.

Cai Guo-Qiang: At the beginning of this year, I had my exhibition "INOPPORTUNE" in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I also had "Official Ceremony for The Permanent Installation of UMoCA" exhibition this March, in Tuscany, Italy. In May, another exhibition of mine called "Long March: Chinese Contemporary Art Education Panel" will be held in China. From April 25 to October 29, my installation “Cai Guo-Qiang on the Roof: Transparent Monument” will be held at the metropolitan Museum in New York. In June, the largest one-man exhibition of my own will be held at the National Gallery in Canada.

C: Sounds you are very busy!

Cai Guo-Qiang: It was hard because I needed to create new pieces for each shows. I draw my drawings at the firework factory in Long Island and gunpowder gets blended at another factory in China. They send it to America.

C: Where do you find themes for your works?

Cai Guo-Qiang: After the 9/11 attack in New York, my themes and works has been quite diverse. For example, I made the rainbow of fireworks above the East River and expressed the colorfulness of the city. I also made the black rainbow under the daylight, whose theme was to express the dismay of the modern society. The pieces with cars inspired me to produce pieces about terrorist attacks.

C: You have works which have concepts of Feng Shui. Do you arrange your studio according to Feng Shui?

Cai Guo-Qiang: Absolutely. Feng Shui is the first priotiry when choosing studios. Even after choosing the studio, I rely on Feng Shui where to place Buddha and other stuff. I placed the Lion Rock between doors. I have many female staffs, and when they complained that they were too busy with work to date, I placed some stuff that would bring opportunities to meet great matches. I also made a Japanese-style garden in the studio. At exhibitions at local towns, Feng Shui represents the energies of the culture, people's history, and space of the town. The life energy "Qi" is an invisible energy. I develop ideas and work on my pieces, taking that energy highly into consideration. I don’t always express like “This is Feng Shui” in my works directly, but when I am working, I am conscious of Feng Shui in an invisible way, like aesthetically.

C: Upon the production of your works in which you use gunpowder, you invented the technique to control the altitude of explosions of fireworks by putting microchips into firework balls. How did the invention affect your work after adopting microchips?

Cai Guo-Qiang: First, it had been said that using gunpowder was dangerous.
Until I started developing the technique of built-in microchips around 2001, all the fireworks were exploded by fuse and the timing of explosions were calculated by the length of fuse. Since fuse was made by hand, it was very difficult to fix the shape and order of explosions of fireworks. But if you use fireworks with built-in microchips, the altitudes and timing of explosions are already calculated.For instance, it is like 2000 people who have tickets get seated exactly in their right seats. I can control the altitude and timing of the explosions of 2000 fireworks. However, there are a good thing and a bad thing about introducing microchips. The good thing is that now I can use the sky as canvas. The bad thing is that they are expensive. I feel pressured in many aspects because huge amount of money is spent on few dozens of seconds of art. That is, promoters try to gather many people to see that expensive piece of art by using the media. The pressure gets even more intense when thousands of people come to see the few dozen seconds of art. That kind of pressure is basically nothing to do with arts, though. Now that I can collect funds and attract people for my work, but I still feel apprehensive if that something in the sky was an art and that the piece was really an artistic piece.

C: When do you feel the excitement while working?

Cai Guo-Qiang: All the time. I always joke that making pieces is the same thing as having sex (laughs). Even when you fail, you can't start over again. Each time is the last time, and you never know if it will end up good or bad if you don't try. But when I finish working, all I feel is a joy. No matter good or bad. I always feel delighted and happy after completing my works.

C: What is an art for you ?

Cai Guo-Qiang: An art is what I do. Through the artistic eyes, everything in the world, from election campaigns of politicians or constructions on the streets, can look as arts.

C: If you were not an artist, what do you think you would be doing?

Cai Guo-Qiang: I can't imagine. I can't see myself being anything but an artist. Sometimes I myself think that I am good at making artistic pieces, but I am not that good at anything else (laugh).


On April 24, the press preview of Cai Guo Qiang’s latest installation was held at the rooftop of the Metropolitan Museum. It had been raining for two days and didn’t seem to stop even an hour before the opening. However, as the time got closer to the opening, the rain magically stopped as if the heaven above was also expecting for his new work. Cai Guo Qiang captivated the attendees with his greater-than-expected piece and live installation. He looked very proud of them.



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Cai Guo-Qiang
Cai Guo-Qiang was born in Quanzhou-city, Fujian, China in 1957. He worked in Japan from 1986 to 1995 and currently lives in New York. He is known for his original philosophy backed up by Oriental ideals like Feng Shui and for dynamic projects and installations with fireworks. He has received many international awards including "International Venice Biennale award." He has held both solo exhibitions and group exhibitions many times globally and is highly renowned internationally.



text by Nobuko MARUTA
Mariko Mori has been working as an artist based in New York since the 90’s. It is still fresh in people’s memory that her installation “Wave UFO” caused a sensation at the 51st Venice Biennale last year. Right now, her latest work “Tom Na H-iu” is open to the public in Japan. She has reached the stage of maturity as a contemporary artist and gained high recognitions internationally. COOL made a visit to her new atelier in Manhattan, which she just moved in pretty recently, and asked about her productions in New York and her views over the New York’s art scene which she had seen all her way.

COOL: Why did you decide to work in New York?

Mariko Mori: I move to London first, to go to school. And then I came to New York to join the “Whitney Museums’s Independent Study Program” and was supposed to be here for a year. The reason why I decided to remain in New York after the program was the fact that New York is very liberal. People from different countries and different cultures live together and all of us are given opportunities equally.

C: What was New York like when you first came here?

MM: It was terrible. I felt the city was very dangerous. But it was much more liberal than it is now. Many artists lived in Manhattan and hung out together, and there were meeting spots for them. Galleries were located in SOHO, not in Chelsea like now, and I could communicate with artists whenever I went to the openings. There was more “local” atmosphere then and New York artists were like cooperating with each other. These days, that “local” atmosphere is felt less and less as artists have moved to Brooklyn and Queens and artists from overseas are holding exhibitions in the city.

C: But weren’t there many artists from other countries at that time?

MM: Yes, but I think they had stronger senses of “I AM A NEW YORKER” than now. Of course, in a real sense, there are few “New Yorkers” who were actually born and grew up in New York, but the artists from those days seemed that they were keeping in mind that they were New Yorkers rather than where they were from.

C: How do you think New York’s art scene has changed from the past?

MM: New York’s art scene wasn’t global before. Rather, it was just a New York’s own thing. But now, New York represents the world’s scene. Artists come in from outside countries and New York has changed its direction from being local to being global. There was a gallery called “American Fine Arts” in SOHO before and the gallery was like a gateway to success for artists. Getting noticed at that gallery meant that you got recognized as a New York artist. Since the art world began to appreciate artists with various cultures and genders, now it looks easier for both New York local artists and internationally artists to work.

C: What do you find attractive about New York?

MM: When I first came to New York 14 years ago, I probably just got attracted to New York itself. New York supports arts at the totally different level. New York just gives artists unconditional supports. There are many people with that sort of passion. Art scene grows because artists are like the seeds in the field and those who support arts water them enough. In that sense, New York is a very good place for artists to grow up. For me personally, New York is where I don’t feel the “magnetic field.” For example, when I am in Europe, I feel the strong magnetic field because European countries have cultures with long and deep histories. I also feel that I am someone who don’t belong to the society because I am an outsider. Likewise, there exists the hardly-changing fine society with long history in Japan. I am also an outsider and I feel the heavy magnetic field as well in Japan. In other words, you are only able to have the identity that the societies will give you in those countries. In New York, people are allowed to have bigger permissible ranges as various people live and various cultures exist…I mean, I can imagine what kind of person I want to be and I can be free as much as I want to be.

C: What is the important thing to work as an artist in New York?

MM: New York is good in terms of knowing what’s happening now. But things changes really fast here.
Lots of things are happening in New York as trends change and many people come in and out. I think the hardest thing here is not to lose yourself. You always have to look at yourself and know what your identity is, what you want to achieve, or what your dream or desire is. Otherwise, you will just get caught up in New York and lose control of things around you. That’s scary. And the most important thing should be that you believe in yourself, no matter what you do or where you are. I think that’s universal.

C: Have you ever had any difficulties or inconveniences while working in New York?

MM: Since things are especially fast-paced in New York, misunderstandings may come up if you don’t communicate well enough. When there is a problem, it always stems from a miscommunication or a lack of explanation. In Japanese society, people can understand each other without exchanges of words sometimes, but that’s not applicable here. So, it is important that you tell things like “This is what I want!” loud and clear. When I first came here, I often cried because I didn’t do that (Laughs). For example, when I was making small pieces, I had to place orders at several factories because one factory couldn’t do it alone. And when I tried to put everything together into one piece, they didn’t fit together. In Japan, if I give the measurements to the factory, they make things according to them exactly. But here, they don’t do that. I should have explained to them with patterns of the actual size or something to avoid those mistakes. Now that I am getting to know the capacities of people here and they know what I want, I don’t have any problems. But it was hard to organize a team with people who share the same sense of value towards work with me since people in New York have so many different backgrounds. It took such a long time to meet those people.

C: What do you think is the difference of the perceptions towards contemporary art between Japan and America?

MM: I am not familiar with the contemporary art scene in Japan so I can’t say anything for sure, but it seems that the environment where artists can grow up hasn’t quite established yet. First of all, to support arts, there should be not only galleries and museums but also people among general public who are actually art collectors, and there are those kinds of people in Europe. No matter how hard artists work, it is impossible for them to continue to do their own things if there aren’t people who understand, love, and collect their pieces with actual financial support. I guess such an environment, like where artists can grow up, has been established little by little but it is still underdeveloped.

C: Where do you get inspirations from?

MM: I always do researches, like I visited remains in Scotland last year and also visited the Jomon remains across Japan 2 years ago. I personally think that the future lies in the past. There are myriads of “dots” called time which is continuing from the past and they link together and become a “line.” I mark a dot, and then someone from the next generation mark another dot, and that continues on and on towards the future. In that sense, I think time is like “Moebius band.” Even though you have a problem now, the answer doesn’t necessarily exist now. Thus, instead of seeking for an answer in the present time, I go back to the past to learn about the future.

C: Last of all, can you tell us about your recent work and your solo exhibition which is running in Japan now ?

MM: The title (of my recent work) is called “Tom Na H-iu,” which means something like “the place where the soul reincarnates before its metempsychosis” in ancient Celtic language. I have traveled across Japan for the research of Jomon remains since 2 years ago and I went to see “standing stones,” which were built in B.C.3000 just when Jomon remains was also built, in Scotland last year. As I look at those prehistoric old-world remains, I felt the life-and-death issue of people of that era, in other words, I found their image towards death magnificent and cosmic. I was inspired to make “standing stones” of our own times. “Tom Na H-iu” is a glass-made “standing stones,” inside of which the image of “light of death” is reflected. At the explosion of supernova, which means the ending stage of stars, the substance called “neutrino” are emitted, and I detected them at the facility “Kamioka Observatory, Institute for Cosmic Ray Reseach (Super Kamiokande)” in Japan and I used those detected data to express the image of “death of light,” which occurs when stars die in the space.



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Mariko Mori
After she graduated from Chelsea College of Art in London, she moved to New York to join “Whitney Museum’s Independent Study Program” and started her career there in 1993. She was awarded for her outstanding performance at Venice Biennale in 1997. She has held solo exhibitions at major museums like Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, State Museum in Los Angeles, and Pompidou Center in Paris. She has also joined international exhibitions and group exhibitions all over the world and gained international reputation.



photo by Richard Learoyd
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