Teacher portal: 01 Unseen Worlds

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Alison Carroll is in Brisbane, outside the Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art. She is heading towards an exhibition by Cai Guo-qiang. Cai grew up in China, and he is a child of the Cultural Revolution. Carroll talks with Cai about the artistic ideas he began developing in the 20th century, and how they came from Maoism, and also from much older traditional ways of thinking.

In Seoul, Korea, Carroll talks with curator Kim Hong-hee about how art from Asia is leading the way in the international scene in the 21st century, and how it absorbs ideas from the East and the West. To understand more about contemporary art scene Carroll says we need to step back into the 20th century, and beyond, and understand that different cultures look at the world differently.

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Interviewees in this episode

Cai Guo-qiang – China/USA


Born in 1957 in Fujian, China, Cai Guo-qiang has shown his work to international acclaim since the early 1990s.  Now living in New York he regularly has major solo exhibitions at leading museums around the world.  Often using traditional Chinese materials and symbols, like gun-powder, the power of the simple ink-brush, or Maoist period sculpture, his works are often huge constructions that confront the audience with their sheer scale, daring, dynamism and showmanship. He is saying that the role of the artist is to dream large and create works that take the viewer into another scale of experience. He first showed a major gun-powder work at the Queensland Art Gallery in 1996, and in 2013 the same gallery hosted a major solo show that recreated leaping wolves in a swirl of primal energy, and a Noah’s ark of animals all lapping water from a communal pond.

Kim Hong-hee – South Korea

Kim Hong-hee has played an important role in the development of Korean contemporary art through her various roles as art historian, art critic, and curator. Currently she is the Director of Seoul Museum of Art, after being Director of Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art and the founding Director of Samzie Space, at the time the leading contemporary art space in Seoul. She has worked on many international art biennales, written many books on contemporary art and museum practice, spoken at conferences around the world, and worked on various projects with Australian colleagues.

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Questions raised in this episode

Scroll down to see questions and resources

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Question 1

What might be the main role of a public art gallery- to preserve and show historical works or to engage with the new and challenging works? Or is it a combination of these? How does the public art gallery in your region present Asian art- as a vibrant contemporary art or as ancient traditional works?


Most public galleries have a website. Here are a few to begin the search.

Discussion and historical background to public art galleries in Australia


Some national, state and regional public art galleries in Australia












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Question 2

“The act of making is as important as the outcome.” Cai Guo-qiang talks about the dialectical relationship between destruction and creation. His ideas came from growing up in the Cultural Revolution. But Pablo Picasso also said “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.” How might this dialectic play out in contemporary world and be manifest in your own art practice?


The Cultural Revolution





Destruction / creation dialectic



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Question 3

Cai Guo-qiang accepts that in the act of destruction-creation, especially in his choice of materials, is an energy that is difficult to control. He speaks of materials having their own energy or ‘invisible forces’ that informs his work. He relates this back to the Chinese concepts of Qi Gong and Feng-Shui. Does great art come from control and masterly expertise of techniques and materials or from learning to work with the serendipity that the process of making brings to the work? Or is it a combination of these?


Qi Gong and Feng-Shui




Other ideas and extension




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Question 4

Countries like South Korea have experience rapid economic growth and with it has come a discussion, in part led by the artists, of how do we explore the complex relationship between global and the local communities, environment and cultures? What is it to be both Asian and a member of a global community? They challenged globalism and explored glocalism.

In a multicultural and our electronically connected world is contemporary art now beyond nationality or is there still some aspect which carries the nationality of the artist? In your own art practice do you see your work as transgressing national boundaries or maintaining them?


Nam June Paik



Glocalism – Globalism