Sky Ladder – Film Review

Sometimes four times is the charm, at least when it comes to making a ladder to connect Earth to the universe. That was the case for Cai Guo-Qiang who tells the story of his 21 year project-in-the-making in the documentary film Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang. Released on Netflix in October 2016, Kevin Macdonald’s documentary, produced by Wendi Deng Murdoch, is a great example of Netflix releasing a top quality picture.


Sky Ladder introduces the viewer to the Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang who is arguably best-known for his spectacular firework shows. In 2008 he put on the opening ceremony show for the Beijing Olympics. More recently, the film documents his disappointing involvement with the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference.

Creating a sky ladder is a project that is close to the artist’s heart. In fact, the project was dedicated to his 100 year old grandmother who passed away only a month afterwards.

Cai Guo-Qiang, Sky Ladder, realized at Huiyu Island Harbour, Quanzhou, Fujian, June 15, 2015 at 4:49 am, approximately 2 minutes and 30 seconds. Photo: Lin Yi, courtesy Cai Studio.

In an official press release, Cai Guo-Qiang states how he originally came up with the idea. While visiting Jerusalem, he was introduced to a prominent rabbi who told him being buried in the valley in Jerusalem has very a significant meaning since ancient times. The reason being, that before the apocalypse, God will supposedly redeem mankind by letting down a ladder from the sky. Those buried in Jerusalem were said to be the first to climb up the ladder to heaven.

Behind Sky Ladder lies a clear childhood dream of mine. I have always been determined to realize it. – Cai Guo-Qiang in Artnet 

What I really enjoyed about the film was that it gave the viewer a glimpse into the intricate planning and meticulous coordination that goes into such a large scale piece. Apart from being impressed by the project management, I really fell in love with Cai Guo-Qiang’s artwork. Using gunpowder as a medium is something I would have never imagined. Moreover, his focus on making environmentally friendly art, and at times political statements, really won me over.

It is far from a spoiler to state that On June 15, 2015 at 4:49 am, Cai Guo-Qiang set of the Sky Ladder explosion in a small fisher’s town in the artist’s hometown of Quanzhou, Fujian Province, China. Watch the fascinating documentary to see how it was done.

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