The 2008 Olympic opening ceremony hinged on unique creative partnerships. Outstanding film director Zhang Yimou, of Raise the Red Lantern and House of Flying Daggers fame, was the overall director of the spectacle. His vision was supplemented, in part, by the ongoing pyrotechnics of Cai Guo-Qiang, whose works could most recently be seen in his retrospective exhibition I Want to Believe at New York’s Guggenheim Museum.
Regardless of one’s political position, a subject that is significant but not determinative in evaluating the architecture or the event, the Herzog and deMeuron designed Olympic Stadium, forever tarred with the rather banal shorthand “the bird’s nest” is certainly a sight (site?) to behold. Outfitted with technological innovations that include screens for projection that will remain permanently installed, the stadium itself was a unique container for shaping the spectacle that it contained.
On of Zhang Yimou’s characteristic visual tropes is the repeated gesture. One need only think of particular sequences in House of Flying Daggers to understand how he had transformed the idea of cultural history into such unique vignettes. To be applauded is the recognition that the arts, whether visual or performing, are key to the understanding and construction of a society.
One might situate this spectacle in line with the emergence of Chinese contemporary art in the world market – something that has, simply, a voice that is both directed towards and distinct from its western audiences.
As we hear for the comng weeks about the Olympics as China’s “coming out” party, we might think of the implications this has for our understandings of the developments to come in contemporary culture. Cai Guo-Qiang and Zhang Yimou, among others, have the ability, insight and innovation to create works of such spectacle that the model might shift, finally, from the wall to space, from the screen to the psyche.