Chinese artist’s ‘Fireflies’ exhibit sparks childhood wonder on streets of Philadelphia

China 24

Chinese artist’s 'Fireflies' exhibit sparks childhood wonder on streets of Philadelphia

Amid weekend traffic rolling through Philadelphia, it may be the best seat in town.

It’s a special exhibit – put on by the Association of Public Art – to mark the centennial of a main artery in the heart of the city.

CGTN’s Frances Kuo reports.

Twenty-seven pedicabs, strung with 1,000 lanterns, are giving Philly’s city lights some stiff competition.

“Seeing the lanterns on the pedicabs is like fireworks that never go out,” said Susan Myers, Assistant Curator and Project Manager for the Association for Public Art, which commissioned the work. 

Unlike a lot of art confined inside museums, this piece of art is not just for looking but riding.  For the past four weeks and through the weekend, the public can ride the pedicabs for free.

“It allows people to experience art from a different vantage point,” said Myers.

Nancy Krieger, who took a spin on a pedicab, agreed. 

“Talking to people, we were saying, ‘Is it art? It’s moving!’ Yes, it’s a very special kind.”

For renowned Chinese artist, Cai Guo-Qiang, now based in the U.S., this project is deeply personal.

“They are the kinds of lanterns I played with in my childhood. It carries a feeling of childlike playfulness.”

Cai says as a kid, these lanterns were more than toys; they were extensions of his dreams.

But, sharing those dreams with his American friends was not easy.

Every one of the 1,000 lanterns was hand-made from Cai’s hometown, the southern city of Quanzhou.  They were then – carefully – shipped across the Pacific.

The shapes range from the familiar to the funky – panda bears and stars to sushi and aliens.

This exhibit is a bit of a departure for Cai. He’s better known not for lighting up city streets but brightening night skies.

Cai most famously made his mark at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, creating the dazzling fireworks display at the Games’ Opening and Closing Ceremonies.

But this time, Cai wants people not to look up but around.

“People of different races meet here, talk, ride the tricycle, exchange feelings,” said Cai. “This is the overall plan of this work. It is like a firefly, like me, who come from places around the world to get together here.”

For some, it’s a ride down memory lane.

“With the lights of the city, it was really nostalgic and magical,” said Keri Golas.  “A lot of times (looking at art) you’re just standing at a line looking out and feeling very separate.  But this did a great job of making you feel really part of the action.”

For Golas’ 8-year-old daughter, Sofia, the ride was a thrill.

“It’s not in a closed space like a car is, it’s in It was awesome, I really liked it, I didn’t want to come off.”

Art that perhaps sparks the kid in all of us.