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Students Observe Transformative Power of Art at 'Fireflies' Event

September 20, 2017
Students meet Fireflies artist Cai Guo-Quiang
Students meet Fireflies artist Cai Guo-Quiang

Students in Assistant Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures and Comparative Literature Shiamin Kwa’s course “Animals, Vegetables, Minerals: Art and Environment in East Asia” attended the opening of “Fireflies,” an interactive installation by artist Cai Guo-Qiang at the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sept. 14. The course looks at how artists in East Asia question, explore, celebrate, and critique the relationships between humans and the environment.

Dr. Kwa and her students in a pedicab

The illuminated art event, which featured more than 900 lanterns affixed to 27 pedicabs, helped the students observe how art transforms our understanding of ordinary objects around us.

Lanterns on a pedicab

“I can’t think of a better example than Cai Guo-Qiang, in part because he frequently uses gunpowder as his medium, which balances the material and the mineral with ideas about the ephemeral and the instantaneous,” Kwa says.

Guo-Qiang is known for creating impressive pyrotechnic displays, including the fireworks display for the opening ceremony at 2008 Olympics in Beijing. He is featured in the Netflix documentary “Sky Ladder,” about his efforts to create a ladder to the sky out of fireworks.

“Cai’s art is experiential. The experience of being there, surrounded by hundreds of other people experiencing the same thing at the same time, is not something that can be replicated on film or print,” Kwa says.

Kwa’s course will take students to The Guggenheim Museum in New York City next for the exhibit “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World,” to explore ideas of time in contemporary Chinese art.

Dr. Shiamin Kwa is Assistant Professor at Bryn Mawr College. Her course, “Animals, Vegetables, Minerals: Art and Environment in East Asia” (EALC 355) was sponsored by an institutional grant to Bryn Mawr College from the Luce Foundation, the Luce Initiative on Asian Studies and the Environment (

East Asian Languages & Cultures