Light Cycle

Cai Guo-Qiang

September 15, 2003
Central Park
Photo © 2003 Hiro Ihara

Light Cycle, by Chinese artist, Cai Guo-Qiang, was an explosion event that illuminated Central Park in aerial drawings of light and fire to celebrate the park’s splendor and vitality on its 150th Anniversary. Signifying renewal and wholeness, the project was intended as a blessing and a gift for New York City. The Light Cycle, designed by the artist to provide a range of experiences, unfolded in three stages from five firing locations throughout Central Park, with its central motif, a 1,000 ft-high halo made of light and fire.

Cai Guo-Qiang collaborated with the nation’s oldest fireworks company, Fireworks By Grucci, to develop a new technology employing programmable microchips in each shell that allow the artist to draw in the sky, using fireworks as an expressive artistic medium. The total duration of Light Cycle was approximately 4 - 5 minutes. While the artwork was designed to afford a variety of experiences from myriad vantage points both within and surrounding the Park, spectators on the ground were directed to the southern end of Central Park’s Great Lawn, the Sheep Meadow, and the perimeter of the North Meadow.

Light Cycle began with Signal Towers, a series of five pillars of fire in a reference to ancient methods of communication. These powerful symbols extended 600 ft. high into the sky from ground level with a 30-ft. diameter. The ignitions of the towers overlapped in timing, and at one exciting point, were visible simultaneously.

Light Cycle consisted of a series of halos that were drawn over the five aforementioned firing locations. Beginning again at Heckscher Ballfields, the artist drew a 350 ft. diameter halo horizontally over the tree line. The halo was then be repeated over Cherry Hill and then again over the North Meadow. A fourth and final halo, 1,000 ft. in diameter, was drawn to hang vertically over The Reservoir. The artist, who described the halos as “amulets placed over the heart of Manhattan”, conceived the work as a metaphor for renewal, timelessness, benediction, and wholeness.

The third and final stage was the beautiful White Night, in which hundreds of shells producing an effect similar to signal flares will be shot into the air simultaneously from all five firing locations to form canopies of bright white light over the Park. In contrast to the darkness that characterizes Central Park at night, this finale aimed to turn the Park into the brightest spot in Manhattan, highlighting the Park as the heart of the city on this night of celebration.

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