Cao Fei Portrait

Cao Fei. Photo: Peng Jing

 

The films, videos, photos, digital projects, drawings and complex multimedia installations of Cao Fei (*1978) explore far-reaching social changes in our era of globalization, urbanization and digitalization. The Beijing-based artist’s oeuvre sheds light on the ways people react to these developments and integrate them into their lives. Operating as both artistic invention and social documentation, the visual language of her work verges on the fantastic, with a melancholy atmosphere leavened by moments of humor and surreal beauty.

 

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Cao’s earlier works observe with great accuracy and empathy the longings, ambitions and desires that people often live out online today, and the consequences this has for their self-image. Video and photographs in her Cosplayers (2004) series, for instance, show teenagers dressed in the colorful costumes of Japanese manga warriors. They roam urban and suburban landscapes during the day, only to spend their evenings in the cramped confines of their families’ small apartments. They are the protagonists of China’s first youth subculture mediated by the Internet, and their daydream-like role-playing seems an understandable reaction to the unforeseeable upheavals of the society in which they live.

In many ways, Cosplayers also explored the emerging neoliberal collective identity brought on by global networking, a theme Cao would continue to probe in later works. Her celebrated project RMB City (2007–11) was named after the renminibi, the Chinese currency often abbreviated as RMB. It was created on the then immensely popular cyberspace platform Second Life and can still be found there today, albeit largely abandoned. RMB City is an exuberant virtual island metropolis whose buildings either imitate real, iconic structures from all over the world or were entirely inspired by fantasy; Cao invited other artists, curators, architects and collectors to contribute to its design. The cyber-city’s hallmark is a giant bicycle wheel reminiscent of Duchamp. The project, which has been documented in a series of hypnotic video works, is less the invention of an alternative parallel world than the narrative processing of the existing world of China, its incomparable construction boom and turbo-capitalism. While initially optimistic in its outlook, the project gained more post-apocalyptic traits near its end.

The idea of the post-apocalyptic is even more prominent in the artist’s recent works, whether in feature film-like videos such as Haze and Fog (2013) and Asia One (2018) or the stop-motion film La Town (2014). In the miniature dioramas of La Town, Cao ironically sketches the disaster scenario of a collapsing civilization. The film’s soundtrack consists in dialogue, written by Marguerite Duras, from the film Hiroshima, mon amour (1959). Both of her two fictional feature films allude to the figure of the post-apocalypse in a more oblique way. Asia One is about the last two people in a gigantic logistics center in Shanghai. The center’s automated distribution is operated entirely by robots and artificial intelligence who increasingly view the two protagonists as a nuisance. Haze and Fog, an elegant black comedy, is set in a wealthy district of Beijing where inhabitants perform everyday tasks that keep tipping over into the surreal. They dance in the supermarket, do yoga on a ping-pong table, play golf in their apartments or lie down in a bathtub filled with rubber balls made to look like watermelons. They are so immersed in their activities that they fail to notice how their lives are being thwarted by a growing group of zombies.

The contemporary critique in Cao Fei’s work is as subtle as it is virtuosic. Her oeuvre deals with the psychosocial effects of new media, the phenomenon of loneliness in a technologized and virtualized world and the social consequences of digital capitalism and expanding cities. Yet its tender, precise and poetic view of the world remains unchanged. It is a perspective of inimitable humanity, far more compelling than any invocation of disaster.

 

Artist Talk

Cao Fei and Klaus Biesenbach
Filmed at Sprüth Magers, Berlin
April 28, 2023

To celebrate Cao Fei’s expansive solo exhibition at Sprüth Magers, Berlin, the gallery hosted a conversation between the Beijing-based artist and Klaus Biesenbach, director of the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin. Biesenbach previously organized a show of Cao Fei’s work during his tenure as director at MoMA PS1. The in-depth discussion between the long-time friends took place in the gallery’s library and touched on subjects such as the overlap of reality and fiction in Cao Fei’s works, the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic impacted her practice and the unreliability of memory in a hyper-digital era.

Click here to watch the conversation.

Cao Fei

Cao Fei, © Cao Fei, courtesy the artist, Vitamin Creative Space and Sprüth Magers. Photo: Jin Jiaji; Klaus Biesenbach. Photo: Bryan Burns

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Cao Fei

Cao Fei, © Cao Fei, courtesy the artist, Vitamin Creative Space and Sprüth Magers. Photo: Jin Jiaji; Klaus Biesenbach. Photo: Bryan Burns

Cao Fei and Klaus Biesenbach
Filmed at Sprüth Magers, Berlin
April 28, 2023

To celebrate Cao Fei’s expansive solo exhibition at Sprüth Magers, Berlin, the gallery hosted a conversation between the Beijing-based artist and Klaus Biesenbach, director of the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin. Biesenbach previously organized a show of Cao Fei’s work during his tenure as director at MoMA PS1. The in-depth discussion between the long-time friends took place in the gallery’s library and touched on subjects such as the overlap of reality and fiction in Cao Fei’s works, the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic impacted her practice and the unreliability of memory in a hyper-digital era.

Click here to watch the conversation.

Works
Cao Fei
Cao Fei
Oz 01, 2023

Cao Fei
Oz 01, 2023
C-Print/Diasec
200 × 145 cm
78 3/4 × 57 inches

Cao Fei
Cao Fei
MatryoshkaVerse 02, 2022

Cao Fei
MatryoshkaVerse 02, 2022
Inkjet print on paper
105 × 157 cm
41 3/8 × 61 7/8 inches

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Cao Fei
Cao Fei
MatryoshkaVerse 06, 2022

Cao Fei
MatryoshkaVerse 06, 2022
Inkjet print on paper
105 × 157 cm
41 3/8 × 61 7/8 inches

More views
Cao Fei
Cao Fei
Nova, 2019

Cao Fei
Nova, 2019
HD Video, 2.35:1, color, with sound
109:53 min

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Cao Fei
Cao Fei
Nova 01, 2019

Cao Fei
Nova 01, 2019
Inkjet print on paper
105 × 150 cm
41 3/8 × 59 inches

Cao Fei
Cao Fei
Prison Architect 09, 2018

Cao Fei
Prison Architect 09, 2018
Inkjet print on paper
120 × 160 cm
47 1/4 × 63 inches

Cao Fei
Cao Fei
Asia One, 2018

Cao Fei
Asia One, 2018
HD Video, 16:9, color, with sound
63:20 min

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Cao Fei
Cao Fei
Haze and Fog 04, 2013

Cao Fei
Haze and Fog 04, 2013
Inkjet print on paper
70 × 105 cm
27 5/8 × 41 3/8 inches

Cao Fei
Cao Fei
Rumba II: Nomad, 2015

Cao Fei
Rumba II: Nomad, 2015
HD Video, color, with sound
14:16 min

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Cao Fei
Cao Fei
Tussle (From Cosplayers Series), 2004

Cao Fei
Tussle (From Cosplayers Series), 2004
Inkjet print on paper
75 × 100 cm
29 1/2 × 39 3/8 inches

Cao Fei
Cao Fei
My Future is Not a Dream 03 (From Whose Utopia Series), 2006

Cao Fei
My Future is Not a Dream 03 (From Whose Utopia Series), 2006
Inkjet print on paper
120 × 150 cm
47 1/4 × 59 inches

Cao Fei
Cao Fei
East Wind, 2011

Cao Fei
East Wind, 2011
Single channel video
9:46 min

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Cao Fei
Cao Fei
People's Limbo in RMB City - A Second Life Machinima, 2009

Cao Fei
People's Limbo in RMB City – A Second Life Machinima, 2009
Single channel video, 16:9, color with sound
18:04 min

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Cao Fei
Cao Fei
RMB City: A Second Life City Planning, 2007

Cao Fei
RMB City: A Second Life City Planning, 2007-2011
Video
5:57 min

Cao Fei
Cao Fei
Shadow Life, 2011

Cao Fei
Shadow Life, 2011
Single channel video
10:05 min

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Cao Fei
Cao Fei
Milkman, 2005

Cao Fei
Milkman, 2005
Single channel video, colour, with sound, with Chinese and English subtitles
18:59 min

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Cao Fei
Cao Fei
Imbalance 257, 1999

Cao Fei
Imbalance 257, 1999
Single channel video
25:41 min

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Details
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
Oz 01, 2023
C-Print/Diasec
200 × 145 cm
78 3/4 × 57 inches

Cao Fei
Oz 01, 2023
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
MatryoshkaVerse 02, 2022
Inkjet print on paper
105 × 157 cm
41 3/8 × 61 7/8 inches

Cao Fei
MatryoshkaVerse 02, 2022
Cao Fei
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
MatryoshkaVerse 02, 2022

Cao Fei
MatryoshkaVerse 02, 2022
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
MatryoshkaVerse 06, 2022
Inkjet print on paper
105 × 157 cm
41 3/8 × 61 7/8 inches

Cao Fei
MatryoshkaVerse 06, 2022
Cao Fei
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
MatryoshkaVerse 06, 2022

Cao Fei
MatryoshkaVerse 06, 2022
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
Nova, 2019
HD Video, 2.35:1, color, with sound
109:53 min

Cao Fei
Nova, 2019
Cao Fei
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
Nova, 2019 (film still)

Cao Fei
Nova, 2019
Cao Fei
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
Nova, 2019 (film still)

Cao Fei
Nova, 2019
Cao Fei
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
Nova, 2019 (film still)

Cao Fei
Nova, 2019
Cao Fei
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
Nova, 2019 (film still)

Cao Fei
Nova, 2019
Cao Fei
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
Nova, 2019 (film still)

Cao Fei
Nova, 2019
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
Nova 01, 2019
Inkjet print on paper
105 × 150 cm
41 3/8 × 59 inches

Cao Fei
Nova 01, 2019
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
Prison Architect 09, 2018
Inkjet print on paper
120 × 160 cm
47 1/4 × 63 inches

Cao Fei
Prison Architect 09, 2018
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
Asia One, 2018
HD Video, 16:9, color, with sound
63:20 min

Cao Fei
Asia One, 2018
Cao Fei
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
Asia One, 2018 (film still)

Cao Fei
Asia One, 2018
Cao Fei
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
Asia One, 2018 (film still)

Cao Fei
Asia One, 2018
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
Haze and Fog 04, 2013
Inkjet print on paper
70 × 105 cm
27 5/8 × 41 3/8 inches

Cao Fei
Haze and Fog 04, 2013
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
Rumba II: Nomad, 2015
HD Video, color, with sound
14:16 min

Cao Fei
Rumba II: Nomad, 2015
Cao Fei
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
Rumba II: Nomad, 2015 (film still)

Cao Fei
Rumba II: Nomad, 2015
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
Tussle (From Cosplayers Series), 2004
Inkjet print on paper
75 × 100 cm
29 1/2 × 39 3/8 inches

Cao Fei
Tussle (From Cosplayers Series), 2004
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
My Future is Not a Dream 03 (From Whose Utopia Series), 2006
Inkjet print on paper
120 × 150 cm
47 1/4 × 59 inches

Cao Fei
My Future is Not a Dream 03 (From Whose Utopia Series), 2006
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
East Wind, 2011
Single channel video
9:46 min

Cao Fei
East Wind, 2011
Cao Fei
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
East Wind, 2011 (film still)

Cao Fei
East Wind, 2011
Cao Fei
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
East Wind, 2011 (film still)

Cao Fei
East Wind, 2011
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
People's Limbo in RMB City – A Second Life Machinima, 2009
Single channel video, 16:9, color with sound
18:04 min

Cao Fei
People's Limbo in RMB City - A Second Life Machinima, 2009
Cao Fei
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
People's Limbo in RMB City – A Second Life Machinima, 2009 (film still)

Cao Fei
People's Limbo in RMB City - A Second Life Machinima, 2009
Cao Fei
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
People's Limbo in RMB City – A Second Life Machinima, 2009 (film still)

Cao Fei
People's Limbo in RMB City - A Second Life Machinima, 2009
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
RMB City: A Second Life City Planning, 2007-2011
Video
5:57 min

Cao Fei
RMB City: A Second Life City Planning, 2007
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
Shadow Life, 2011
Single channel video
10:05 min

Cao Fei
Shadow Life, 2011
Cao Fei
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
Shadow Life, 2011 (film still)

Cao Fei
Shadow Life, 2011
Cao Fei
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
Shadow Life, 2011 (film still)

Cao Fei
Shadow Life, 2011
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
Milkman, 2005
Single channel video, colour, with sound, with Chinese and English subtitles
18:59 min

Cao Fei
Milkman, 2005
Cao Fei
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
Milkman, 2005 (film still)

Cao Fei
Milkman, 2005
Cao Fei
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
Milkman, 2005 (film still)

Cao Fei
Milkman, 2005
Cao Fei
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
Milkman, 2005 (film still)

Cao Fei
Milkman, 2005
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
Imbalance 257, 1999
Single channel video
25:41 min

Cao Fei
Imbalance 257, 1999
Cao Fei
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
Imbalance 257, 1999 (film still)

Cao Fei
Imbalance 257, 1999
Cao Fei
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
Imbalance 257, 1999 (film still)

Cao Fei
Imbalance 257, 1999
Cao Fei
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
Imbalance 257, 1999 (film still)

Cao Fei
Imbalance 257, 1999
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Current and Upcoming
Cao Fei
Cao Fei, MatryoshkaVerse, 2022
© Cao Fei, 2024

Cao Fei
Cao Fei: At the Edge of Superhumanity
SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah
Through July 29, 2024

Since the early 2000s, SCAD deFINE ART honoree Cao Fei has produced forward-thinking work that acutely responds to and reflects on – in real time – shifts in our perception and experience of reality during periods of rapid globalization, urban development, and technological advancement. A pioneer of creating digital worlds, Cao Fei transforms two galleries at the SCAD Museum of Art into an immersive multimedia installation featuring live-action films, as well as virtual, augmented, and mixed-reality environments for visitors to explore. Blurring distinctions between the terrestrial and the cyber, the familiar and the futuristic, Cao Fei reveals how the spaces we inhabit shape our identities and social interactions, and ultimately redirect our search for meaning and purpose in life.

Link

Cao Fei
Meta-Mentary
Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich
Through September 8, 2024

In her films, photographs, and walk-in multimedia installations, Cao Fei addresses the economic and social changes of our time. Digitalization, globalization, the transformation of urban and suburban structures and thus our living spaces are at the heart of her art. Her questions focus on the way we humans live and react to the developments around us and adapt to them or actively incorporate them into our lives. For her works, Cao Fei herself sometimes spends time in the virtual community using her avatars China Tracy and Oz and documents her perception of digital realities in individual imagery and distinctive artistic spaces. Invention and reality, the fantastic and the documented, the digital and the human combine to create surreal, dystopian images and individual aesthetics that can be experienced by the public. Cao Fei’s exhibition at the Lenbachhaus will also focus on how rapid social change is being accelerated by digital technologies, affecting and changing human experience and the self-image of human existence at their core.

Link
Cao Fei
Cao Fei, DUOTOPIA 03, 2023
© Cao Fei, 2024
Exhibitions at Sprüth Magers
Cao Fei

Mondi Possibili
Henni Alftan, John Baldessari, Cao Fei, Thomas Demand, Thea Djordjadze, Lucy Dodd, Robert Elfgen, Peter Fischli  David Weiss, Sylvie Fleury, Jenny Holzer, Donald Judd, Karen Kilimnik, Barbara Kruger, Louise Lawler, David Ostrowski, Michail Pirgelis, Sterling Ruby, Thomas Scheibitz, Andreas Schulze, Hyun-Sook Song, Robert Therrien, Rosemarie Trockel, Kaari Upson, Andrea Zittel
August 31–September 14, 2023
Seoul

Mondi Possibili highlights the interplay between art and design and explores the many ways in which experimentation with material, technique and scale can reveal the hidden narratives, quiet drama and humor in the everyday items that furnish our lives as well as our imaginations. Connected through a paradigm of the possible, all artworks on show examine familiar objects – citing, celebrating, adapting or appropriating them – offering surprising, playful or unsettling approaches that open up a range of “possible worlds.” This will be the fourth edition of Sprüth Magers’ Mondi Possibili – first titled by Pasquale Leccese – showcasing significant themes in the selected artists’ works as well as the gallery’s longstanding heritage. Its three previous iterations were presented in 1989, 2006 and 2007 in Cologne, where the gallery’s history is firmly rooted, and art and design have intersected for many decades.

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Cao Fei
Duotopia
April 29–August 19, 2023
Berlin

For over two decades, the work of Cao Fei has stood at the forefront of thinking around art, media, technology and futurity. Diverse in medium and approach, her projects explore facets of everyday existence mingled with the surreal and spectacular to tap into deep-seeded questions around what it means to be human in this ever-shifting twenty-first century. Duotopia, a major exhibition by Cao Fei at Sprüth Magers, Berlin, will transform all of the gallery’s spaces and premiere several new works outside of China that delve into the metaverse, virtual reality and the interactions between human and machine consciousness.

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Cao Fei
Cao Fei

Cao Fei
October 8–December 22, 2021
Los Angeles

Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles is pleased to present a solo exhibition of work by Cao Fei that highlights the artist’s recent projects, presenting several of them in Los Angeles for the first time. Films and photographs from her feature-length films Nova (2019) and Asia One (2018), as well as photographs related to previous groundbreaking projects such as Haze and Fog (2013) and La Town (2014), will transform the Los Angeles gallery, transporting visitors through the artist’s reflections on the rapid urbanization of her native China in the wake of mass cultural, social and technological upheavals.

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GO FIGURE!?
Henni Alftan, John Baldessari, Cao Fei, George Condo, Diane Dal-Pra, Thomas Demand, Alex Foxton, Lenz Geerk, Elizabeth Glaessner, Matthew Angelo Harrison, Oscar yi Hou, Gary Hume, Clementine Keith-Roach, Karen Kilimnik, Barbara Kruger, Louise Lawler, Jo Messer, Pamela Rosenkranz, Sterling Ruby, Thomas Scheibitz, Cindy Sherman, Rosemarie Trockel, Kara Walker, Andro Wekua
May 19–May 26, 2021

GO FIGURE!? is an online exhibition in collaboration with Ed Tang and Jonathan Cheung. It presents works by artists from Sprüth Magers roster alongside a selection of emerging artists from around the globe and across various media, aiming to welcome a playful dialogue between the exhibiting artists and works.

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Cao Fei
Press

Modern Times
Wallpaper*, article by Daven Wu, November, 2021

Cao Fei at the Serpentine Gallery: where virtual and real worlds meet
Financial Times, review by Alistair Hicks, July 21, 2020

Cao Fei on the limits of truth and virtuality
Artforum International, interview by Zack Hatfield, March 15, 2020

Cao Fei: Blueprints review – would you trade love for progress?
The Guardian, article by Hettie Judah, March 4, 2020

Q. and A.: Cao Fei on Art, Motherhood and Walking the Political “Red Line”
The New York Times, interview by Amy Qin, April 7, 2015

Biography

Cao Fei (*1978, Guangzhou) lives and works in Beijing. Selected solo shows include Serpentine Galleries, London (2020), Centre Pompidou, Paris (2019), the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Chinese Art Initiative at Guggenheim Museum New York, Tai Kwun Contemporary in Hong Kong and K21 Düsseldorf, Dusseldorf (all 2018), MoMA PS1 (2016), Secession, Vienna and Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht (both 2015) and Tate Modern, London (2013).

http://www.caofei.com
https://www.instagram.com/cao_fei/

Education
2001 Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts
1997 The Affiliated Middle School of Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts
Awards, Grants and Fellowships
2021 Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize, Frankfurt am Main
2017 Apollo 40 under 40 Global Artist, London
2016 Best Artist, 2016, CCAA’s Prize, Chinese Contemporary Art Awards, Beijing
Piedra de Sal, Cuenca Biennial, Ecuador
2010 Finalist, Future Generation Art Prize, Pinchuk Art Centre, Kiev
Hugo Boss Prize, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York
2006 Best Young Artist, 2006, CCAA’s Prize, Chinese Contemporary Art Awards, Beijing
2005 Fellowship Program: Beijing Case: Culture of the High Speed Urbanism
Federal Cultural Foundation (Kulturstiftung des Bundes)