Cao Fei


11 July - 22 August

Contemporary discussion on China is saturated with superlatives that attempt to reflect the dramatic shifts that have taken place within the lifetime of artist Cao Fei, (born in 1978) from collective idealism to a more individualistic consumption-centred society. As a native of Guangzhou, one of the first cities to feel the effects of globalisation, Cao Fei continues to occupy a unique position with regard to generation and geography.

Old enough to retain some vestigial memory of earlier times and of the clashes between traditional and capitalist materialism, yet also young enough to naturally gravitate towards new technologies and means of communication, she is concerned with transitional ideologies and media. Her work responds to China’s rapid urbanization and the giddying pace of social and economic development. She depicts states of transformation within a youth culture heavily influenced by Japanese manga and anime and played out against an ever-expanding cityscape.

Cao Fei's key theme is utopia—escape. She became initially well known for her video Cosplayers, documenting a subculture where people dress as manga and movie characters and play out fantasy lives. She followed this with Whose Utopia, filmed in a bleak factory. Workers pursued mind-numbing work only to reappear as musicians and dancers performing in the same space. Most recently Cao Fei has staged works on the Internet in Second Life, most notably RMB City (RMB being Chinese currency). RMB City is a spectacular utopian/dystopian island-metropolis, where candy-striped smoke stacks suggest continuous industrial production, missiles make unremitting preemptive strikes, and ships move goods swiftly in and out of port. A giant shopping cart, filled with skyscrapers and religious monuments, floats nearby.

Over the last ten years Cao Fei’s work has been exhibited throughout the world, including at the Venice Biennale. This is the first solo exhibition of her work in Australasia. Cao Fei: Utopia is a joint project with the IMA, Brisbane and Artspace, Auckland. This exhibition will travel on to TheNewDowse, Hutt City; and Dunedin Public Art Gallery.

Artspace has received funding support from ASIA New Zealand towards the public programmes for Cao Fei: Utopia.


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RMB City