'Peasant Da Vincis' on show in Shanghai exhibit

The movable metal fins on Li Yuming's homemade submarine are designed to make it swim like a fish, but with no engine it cannot go forward or even return to the surface once launched.

"Minor problems" says the Chinese peasant inventor, who insists funding is all he needs to make it functional.

Like a giant rusty goldfish, Li's two-metre-long (six-foot-seven-inch) metal submarine hangs in the air at Shanghai's Rockbund Art Gallery, surrounded by planes, helicopters, flying saucers, and other "Peasant da Vincis".

The collection is a new exhibition by Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang, whose gunpowder on canvas designs won the Hiroshima Art Prize for peace and whose fireworks for the opening of the Beijing Olympics dazzled the world.

Cai was fascinated by the humble handcrafted charm of the whimsical inventions by Chinese peasants - robots, flying machines and even an aircraft carrier - which he said were "borne out of a desire to escape the gravity of one's circumstances".

"I was very touched by their uselessness, like the submarines. Once they sink they can never float back up," Cai said. "It's the same with artworks, they're pretty useless, but everyone takes them very seriously."

The idea of combining the inventions with his own art in halls featuring grass and chirping birds sprang from an exhibition he curated for the 2005 Venice Biennale that included peasant Du Wenda, 44.

Obsessed by flying saucers since seeing a copy of Science Fiction magazine at the age of 10, Du had hoped to fly one of his homemade craft at the show.

But Cai said it soon became clear that if it did fly, he would be unable to land and the homemade craft would fall apart. He consoled Du, who feared he had shamed his nation.

"It's not a big deal," Cai recalled telling him. "The world has the highest respect for Italian inventor Leonardo da Vinci, but none of his inventions were ever completed."

Now Cai and his peasant collaborators are providing a counterpoint to the slick presentations nearby at the six-month, multi-billion-dollar Shanghai World Expo.

Peasant inventor Wu Yulu, 48, took over a gallery floor, turning it into a robot workshop where two creations paint dots and splashes in the style of Damien Hirst and Jackson Pollock.

Other robots jump, dance and pull a rickshaw.

The stories of the inventors such as Wu - who hopes his robot offspring such as Big Wu, Second Wu, and Third Wu will lead to fame and fortune - are as captivating as the creations.

Sixty-eight-year-old farmer Wu Shuzai's wife tore apart his first wooden aircraft for firewood to teach him not to waste limited resources.

His chicken coop-like aircraft may have never taken wing, but he still dreams of flying over his mountain village and seeing the world in it.

Wang Qiang, a 34-year-old hairdresser, has actually flown in his planes powered by a second hand 250cc motorcycle engine and fashioned out of hand-carved propellers, metal tubes and plastic bathroom pipes, covering distances of up to three kilometres (two miles) at speeds of up to 120 kph (75 mph).

"In the city we are obsessed with always going faster but the peasants from the countryside are working hard to chase after their dreams and it's something that we should learn from," Cai said.

But in a reminder of the dangers faced by these self-taught "Da Vincis", the exhibit includes the shattered motor of the wrecked plane 50-year-old Tan Chengnian built as a gift for his wife. He died in a trial flight in 2007.

"Sometimes an inventor would work very hard at making a flying saucer fly but then I asked 'What would you do if it does?'" Cai said. "He said he'd never thought about it."

The exhibit at Shanghai's Rockbund Art Gallery continues until July 25.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum