Reading: Sky’s The Limit With Hennessy’s Artist Collaboration

Sky’s The Limit With Hennessy’s Artist Collaboration

Hennessy knows how to celebrate! In honour of Hennessy X.O’s 150th anniversary World Odyssey program two friends and creative masterminds (Cai and the Hennessy Maison) came together to create a daytime fireworks event that expressed their dual vision for a hopeful future. The message was loud and colourful, and the performance underscored the duo’s universal values of joy, optimism, and resilience. If you missed the livestream you can still catch the display here. Trust us, it was a blast.

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Cai Quo-Qiang; I am a contemporary artist with works spanning painting, installation, video, and performance.  I was born in China, where I began my artistic journey studying theater arts, and now live in New York City. For my collaboration with Hennessy X.O, I designed a daytime explosion event entitled “The Birth of a Tragedy” and a work of gunpowder on painting to honour this celebration of the human spirit and optimism. 

What were the challenges you faced creating a daytime performance?  Since we’re all facing our own “unprecedented challenges” what advice can you give artists in terms of innovating through design? 

Daytime fireworks can endure the change in weather and storms – reflecting the strength of the human spirit – and creating an opportunity as opposed to a challenge. The daytime fireworks bloom and vanish in nature, creating a powerful effect. 

My advice to artists is to embrace a medium that fascinates, that inspires you, and the creative energy will come. I began experimenting with gunpowder early on during my education. Gunpowder is associated with war and violence, however, it was originally intended for healing – crafted out of ingredients in Chinese medicine – and is dynamic in its power to move and inspire. 

How does your background in theatre in performance influence your shows?

I studied stage design at the Shanghai Theatre Academy from 1981 to 1985, which instilled an understanding of how an audience perceives a performance and how to make an emotional impact through the visual medium. Whether it is a piece of live art or a dramatic performance, the visual medium plays the largest role. 

What role does the environment and setting play when planning fireworks?  Do you have the setting first and plan around that, or an idea first and then source the right location?

Environment and setting always factor into the design of a fireworks event, as the surroundings are the stage for the performance. For this performance, the surroundings were especially important as the fireworks event was during the day, making the scenery a part of the content, not just a blank canvas.  But most important, the town of Cognac and the Charente River were lead actors in this performance, as it also pays homage to the community and the people who have been creating and sending hope and joy to people around the world. 

What was it like to work with such an iconic heritage brand like Hennessy? 

Hennessy has been an incredibly supportive partner, being open to my vision and interpretations. Because of the pandemic, our goal and responsibility quickly changed, Hennessy has been very encouraging of me to shape the theme in order to honour persistence and optimism in the human spirit.  

How did Hennessy inspire you to create this show?

Hennessy and I share a persistent determination on the spirit of craftsmanship. When they first asked me to design a performance to celebrate the anniversary of Hennessy X.O, the world was a different place. We agreed, in this trying moment for humankind, that the show must reflect our larger shared vision of a hopeful future, while acknowledging the challenges that face us all. The cosmology expressed in Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy, which inspired my performance, views the world as a cycle of construction and destruction. And for me, the odyssey and homecoming of life alike is the wheel of nature. 

What do you hope the audience takes away from this performance?

We are sending an important message to the world that we are all in the good spirit of unity, optimism and hope during this difficult time. After the acknowledgement of our tragedies and pains, we must stand back up and look forward. That is the spirit of hope for humankind. The Charente River, where the firework event took place, has brought the world so much joy, courage and dreams for the past hundreds of years. I hope we could continue to bring the same wonder of happiness, courage and optimism to the world.  

Why is supporting the arts, artists and performance arts more important than ever?

Times like this can be challenging for the arts, especially young artists and performers, but in this moment creators are needed more than ever to move, to inspire, to create a cultural dialogue on what is happening in the world. I would urge all who can to support the arts now more than ever, as the support is needed to continue to foster creative growth. 

Why is collaboration such a powerful act?

Collaboration is powerful, as it brings two entities together who may have shared views or diverging views, and it’s these moments of harmony or divergence that inspire dialogue and new ideas. As I mentioned, this collaboration with Hennessy X.O took on an even greater meaning than anticipated, with us sharing a vision to reach out to the world to offer hope. 

When you look back at your artist legacy, what is the thing you most want to be remembered for?

When I was younger many artists influenced me and this is an opportunity for me to dedicate this daytime firework performance to my younger self and the old days when I used to draw non-stop. It also let me channel the spiritual conversation and pay tribute to all the great artists from the past. I hope that I can serve as an inspiration for young artists finding their calling. 

What is your favourite way to enjoy Hennessy?

I am not an expert on that, and I need to try it more often.