Fireworks: Art of the Explosion

Look behind the scenes of a major art installation – an explosive one.


Age range: middle and high school

Estimated Time: one to two hours.

Key Technology: You can use this on a computer or project on a screen or interactive whiteboard. Sound is needed for videos.

This interactive takes students through the preparation and performance of the special fireworks/art event “Tornado, Explosion Project for the Kennedy Center” by Cai Guo-Qiang. There is extensive multimedia content divided into six parts: Conceptualize, Collaborate, Design, Build, Install, and Ignite. Watching, reading, listening, and examining photos and infographics, students will learn about the science, history, and art of fireworks. There is also an interactive fireworks design game.

Think About...

  • Go through the interactive in order, from part 1 through part 6, including all the steps in each part, to get the whole story.
  • Sometimes you have to look closely to find all the words and images. Watch for the arrows!
  • As you watch, notice all the different roles and jobs involved in putting together a performance like this.
  • A number of problems and challenges arise during the preparations. Notice the problem-solving approaches used.


  • When and where was gunpowder invented?
  • How did Cai Guo-Qiang describe his feelings after the event?
  • How are computers used to prepare the Explosion Project?
  • What kinds of safety precautions are used?

Critical Thinking

  • Cai Guo-Qiang says that art begins with ideas. Do you agree? Why or why not?
  • Cai Guo-Qiang and Phil Grucci worked together closely on this project even though they don’t speak the same language or live in the same country. How might this add challenges to the process?
  • What kinds of special knowledge and training were required by the workers on this project?
  • How do the people involved in the project approach problem-solving for the challenges they encounter along the way? List some problems and solutions. What other options could they have chosen?

Quiz Yourself!

  • Fireworks originated in China, but shells were an Italian invention. Can you remember how shells are made?
  • There are a lot of special terms in fireworks. Can you remember the meanings of these terms: shells, mortars, stars, crossettes, bees, falling leaves?

Learn More

Dig Deeper!

Visit Cai Guo-Qiang’s website: http://www.caiguoqiang.com/

For the Educator

Work through the interactive’s six parts in order to get full understanding of the process behind the Explosion Project, or pick out the media you want to study in depth.

This resource gives you materials on the history, art, and science of fireworks, on gunpowder art, and on the preparation involved in an elaborate art installation. The interactive takes you from the initial concept through the work involved in building and testing the fireworks and on to the installation and performance of the piece.

There are six segments, and each contains multiple parts, so you may want to work through the whole interactive, and then return to sections such as the slideshow explanation of how fireworks shells are made, the video demonstrating gunpowder art, or the explosion event itself.

Instructional Strategies

This interactive lends itself to large-group, interactive discussions supported by an Interactive Whiteboard



Daniella Garran
Original Writer

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