On Thursday night, hundreds of spectators lined across a portion of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to watch the boulevard turn into a glittering spectacle of moving lights.
It was the world debut of artist Cai Guo-Quang’s “Fireflies” performance. Twenty-seven pedicabs adorned in colorful handmade lanterns of all shapes and sizes wheeled their way down the Parkway in synchronized rhythm to the tune of something that resembled the Pennsylvania’s official state song.
But the short show was also Guo-Quang’s childhood dreams turned into reality. Through an interpreter, Guo-Quang explained before the performance that growing up in China, playing with paper lanterns was a childhood pastime. So when the Association for Public Art approached Guo-Quang to bring his work to Philly for the 100th Anniversary of the Parkway, he jumped at the chance to play with these lanterns once again.
“These are the fireworks in my childhood that have never extinguished,” he said.
Thousands of lanterns—aka the fireflies—were handmade by Guo-Quang in his hometown of Quanzhou, then carefully transferred to the U.S. this summer and installed onto pedicabs in a warehouse in Kensington. Guo-Quang said the lanterns are symbols of his childhood, although new shapes like emoji’s have been added to the mix.
Coincidentally, aPA’s executive director Penny Balkin Bach, says only after the association commissioned Guo-Quang did they find out that Pennsylvania’s state insect is the firefly.
Thursday’s show was a one-night-only performance, but Guo-Quang said that’s not the true point of his interactive art installation. “I wanted to give the Parkway to the people and allow them to participate,” he said. “It’s so busy and full of traffic, but everyone should feel happy here.”
Beginning Friday, September 15 through Sunday, October 8, 2017, everyone is welcome to take a ride in one of the pedicabs along the Parkway as part of the Parkway 100 celebrations. The free rides take off at Iroquois Park or Sister Cities Park. And while there are walk-up spots available, you can also reserve a spot, since spots are filling up fast.