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.

 

Cao Fei
Nova, 2019
HD Video
109:53 min (excerpt)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works
Cao Fei
Cao Fei
Nova, 2019

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

More views
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
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
Asia One, 2018

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

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

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

More views
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

More views
Cao Fei
Cao Fei
RMB City: A Second Life City Planning, 2007-2011

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

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

More views
Cao Fei
Cao Fei
Shadow Life, 2011

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

More views
Cao Fei
Cao Fei
Milkman, 2005

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

More views
Cao Fei
Cao Fei
Imbalance 257, 1999

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

More views
Details
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
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
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
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
RMB City: A Second Life City Planning, 2007-2011
Video
5:57 min

Cao Fei
RMB City: A Second Life City Planning, 2007-2011
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
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
Details
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Current and Upcoming
Cao Fei
Cao Fei, Nova, 2019 (film still), Video, 109 min. Courtesy of the artist, Vitamin Creative Space and Sprüth Magers

Cao Fei
Blueprints
Serpentine Galleries, London
August 4-September 13, 2020

Cao Fei's work is underpinned by an ongoing exploration of virtuality, how it has radically altered our perception of self and changed the way we understand reality. This slippage between the physical and the virtual is always present in her work; from the utopic and dystopic potentials of our modern-day cities, the escapism of users via the virtual platform, Second Life, to the alienating effects of mechanised labour in China, Cao Fei often addresses these far-reaching topics through deadpan humour and the creation of surreal encounters.

Link

Cao Fei
Supernova
MAXXI – Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo, Rome
December 4, 2020–April 4, 2021

Between dreams and reality, the real and the virtual, Cao Fei's videos examine the dilemmas of contemporary life, exploring the transformations in China, the perception of self and facing universal questions.
Among the most prominent figures in the international art scene, Cao Fei (born in Guangzhou and based in Beijing) has participated in more than one hundred biennials and exhibitions and her works are exhibited in the most prestigious international art institutions.

Link
Cao Fei
Cao Fei, Nova, 2019 (film still), Video, 109 min. Courtesy of the artist, Vitamin Creative Space and Sprüth Magers
Cao Fei
Cao Fei, Nova, 2019 (film still), Video, 109 min. Courtesy of the artist, Vitamin Creative Space and Sprüth Magers

Cao Fei
Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art – UCCA, Beijing
March 12, 2021–June 6, 2021

As a leading member of China’s avant-garde, Cao Fei uses multimedia formats—film, video, virtual reality, and installation—to surreally depict the dramatic social changes of a globalizing China and the state of the individual under such conditions. Cao Fei’s UCCA exhibition, her first major solo show in China, assembles works from different periods of her artistic career and situates her practice within the context of the country’s profound social upheavals.

Link
Press

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

Portrait Cao Fei
Spike, interview by Hou Hanru, Summer 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

Cao Fei: A hollow in a world too full
Art Review Asia, review by Wenny Teo, Spring 2019

Cao Fei’s Avatars and Antiheroes
Parkett, article by Hou Hanru, 2017

Cao Fei at MoMA PS1, New York
Art in America, article by Gregory Volk, May 26, 2016

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
2017 Apollo 40 under 40 Global Artist, London
2016 Best Artist, 2016, CCAA’s Prize, Chinese Contemporary Art Awards, Beijing
2016 Piedra de Sal, Cuenca Biennial, Cuenca
2010 Finalist, Future Generation Art Prize, Pinchuk Art Centre, Kiev
2010 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
2005 Federal Cultural Foundation (Kulturstiftung des Bundes)