Berlin, Singapore, New York, Bilbao, and Brisbane are just a few of the locations in the world that have had the pleasure of experiencing Cai Guo-Qiang’s Head On (2006). For his dramatic and impressive installation, Cai who resides in New York chose to fit 99 life-like stuffed wolves into a glass wall. The stuffed wolves appeared to push towards a transparent wall relentlessly crashing with full force against the glass barrier.
What the wolves represent
While the installation was inspired by Berlin’s rich and tortured history, the message exposed was valid for everyone. Cai wanted to portray the universal human tragedy resulting in our urge for upward mobility and advancement. The wolves were designed to echo the human spirit of relentlessly trying to attain an objective without compromise.
How the installation was produced
Striking in its significant size and the emotions that the piece evokes, the wolves featured in Head On were constructed from a combination of metal wires, hay, and painted sheepskin. The beginning of the piece started with a few stray wolves casually joining more wolves headed in the same direction. Along the length of the transparent barrier, the wolves appeared to gain momentum and rise in a tight pack, which created the illusion of one long stream of moving wolves. The stream, which was suspended above the head of the audience, also appeared as though it was crashing forcefully into a plexiglass wall located on the opposite side of the room.
Why the wolves looked so realistic
To make the facial expressions of the wolves seem realistic, Cai used plastic for the faces as well as marbles for the dark lifelike eyes of the wolves. The expressions on their faces and the tension in the bodies are what helped to contribute to the illusion that the wolves were running in one direction deliberately. The ears of the wolves were laid back, mouths were open and the teeth and tongue were exposed, just like wolves running in a realistic setting would.
Video: Cai Guo-Qiang speaks about Head On
The message of the show was simple and straight to the point; human beings must live together and care about the planet and each other if the planet is to survive. Additionally, since the piece was commissioned by the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin, Heads On was also a metaphor that was central to understanding the Berlin Wall and the effect that the wall had in the country. Heads on is definitely a captivating piece where the realistic appearance of all the wolves helped to transport audiences into the world of the strange and the unfamiliar.