Philadelphia, PA – On September 14th at 8pm, Cai Guo-Qiang’s largest public art project in the United States in the past decade opened on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. In a one-time twenty minute performance directed by Cai Guo-Qiang, local participants steered 27 pedicabs adorned with nearly 1,000 multi colored lanterns of various shapes, hand-crafted in the artist’s hometown of Quanzhou. For this occasion, Cai designed a choreography based on the flowing and languorous movements of the lanterns. The “fireflies” followed the variations of a musical composition into the gathering darkness of the Parkway as though spinning and dancing into a late summer carnivalesque dream. At the conclusion of the performance, a crowd of over 1,000 spectators flooded the Parkway to congratulate the drivers and take selfies with their favorite lanterns. Fireflies is a humorous tribute to the centennial of the artery. As the city’s cultural axis with profound political meaning; it brings participants and spectators to reflect on the relationship between public art, and the city, its people and society.
“mesmerizing…the event lasted only 20 minutes but generated a feel-good response.” — The New York Times
“it was just so charming and it made you laugh,” said Lauren Raske, 31, an event planner
“It’s a nighttime activity and the mystique of the evening makes it a little romantic,” said Nicole Dugan, a physical therapist, “Even on this small scale, it was really spectacular.”
“This is not just from Cai’s childhood but from everyone’s childhood,” – Sadigaa Horton, 45, pedicab driver
The opening night preludes a month’s duration of the public component of Fireflies: commencing September 15th, members of the public are invited to board the vehicles to take rides up and down the Parkway from Sister Cities Park to Iroquois Park near the Philadelphia Museum Art. The rides will be operated for four weeks, Thursdays through Sundays, between 6-10pm, until October 8, 2017. As of September 15th, all the advance time slots have been reserved, but walk-ins remain available. Fireflies is commissioned and organized by Association for Public Art with curator Lance Fung of San Francisco’s Fung Collaboratives.
Cai Guo-Qiang has an unforgettable relationship with the city of Philadelphia—his explosion event Fallen Blossom in 2009 was seen in front of the façade of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, located at the end of the iconic Benjamin Franklin Parkway– in homage of the late director Anne d’Harnoncourt. Fireflies was an entirely new and grassroots experience. Responding to an open call, several Philadelphians partook in the performance and project as pedicab operators, while visitors from the city and around the world witnessed the performance and rode the pedicabs. Lanterns in the shapes of cars, submarines, cosmic ships, slippers, sushi, donuts as well as little roosters, extraterrestrials, and emoticons were fabricated in Quanzhou before being shipped thousands of miles away to be installed in Philadelphia. Shuttling back and forth on the Parkway aligned with flags from hundreds of different countries, the fireflies remind people of the countless cultures and peoples that take root in the Unites States. Over the next four weeks, the pedicabs will generate encounters between peoples of various backgrounds.
This summer, Cai Guo-Qiang spent several days in Philadelphia in preparation for the opening performance. During the dress rehearsal, a long procession of “fireflies,” generating a trail of bright light, was escorted by the police from the production headquarters in Olde Kensignton, through Ludlow and Poplar to Center City all the way to the Parkway. The neighborhoods became alive with the passing of the fireflies; city dwellers and local residents spontaneously stopped to cheer and take photographs, enjoying the excitement of a chance encounter with public art…
“Small roosters and red stars…a lot of the lanterns you see here resemble those I used to play with as a kid in Quanzhou,” said Cai Guo-Qiang, “they are the inextinguishable fireworks of my childhood…For the centennial of the Benjamin Franklin parkway, I didn’t wish to create a large scale celebration, but rather a playful and light evening, to return the Parkway to the people and let them participate in the creative process.”
The musical composition for Firelfies was edited by Liu Ruomu, an undergraduate student at Emery College, from the original official state song “Pennsylvania” by Eddie Khoury and Ronnie Bonner. A 9-minute documentary sharing the same title was directed by Shanshan Xia.
Cai Guo-Qiang: Fireflies information:
Enjoy FREE one-way Fireflies pedicab rides move along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway from Iroquois Park to Sister Cities Park or vice versa.
September 15 – October 8, 2017
Thursdays through Sundays from 6-10pm
The vehicles can accommodate up to two passengers, and each trip takes approximately 15 minutes. Walk-ups are welcome, but online reservations can be made here.
For more information, please visit