Cao Fei has exhibited at all the major galleries around the world – MOMA, PS1, Guggenheim – and while audiences might have caught glimpses of her work in exhibitions in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, this is the first time a survey show of her work has occurred in Australia.
Cao Fei has exhibited at all the major galleries around the world – MOMA, PS1, Guggenheim – and while audiences might have caught glimpses of her work in exhibitions in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, this is the first time a survey show of her work has occurred in Australia. The CACSA exhibition features eight video presentations spanning almost 14 years of her practice. Cao Fei is preoccupied with alternative worlds. In early works like Cosplayers she focuses on blurring the boundaries between real and imagined worlds as her characters (dressed in costumes based on animé, manga, video games and movies) navigate the streets of Guangzhou. Cao Fei’s cosplayers are in a somewhat parallel universe reflecting China’s younger generation and the restlessness of life in modern China. Cao Fei takes this idea further by presenting a straight up virtual reality world in a series of works based on the online video game community Second Life. In these works Fei adopts the avatar China Tracey and presents a future world that is an idealised alternativeto the real world but at the same time explores the loneliness and isolation that these virtual worlds possess. Looking at her career, one can see the evolution from early works, where she explores alternative realities, to the later works like Haze and Fog, which are more dystopian in their vision. CACSA Curator Logan MacDonald says: “The shift has been in trying to show these virtual worlds and real worlds as very separate things. That people can play out different lives but then seeing that blend and merge, leading into Haze and Fog where the ultimate fantasy of a dystopian society plays out with zombies and a horror film quality to it.” Director of OzAsia Festival Joseph Mitchell points out the influence that Matthew Barney has had on a generation like Cao Fei’s. Barney’s influence is particularly evident in the work Haze and Fog in terms of his epic video artwork. “What I find interesting is the fact that [Cao] Fei is using it in the context of Beijing and taking what is undeniably a western European influence and recontextualising it in terms of her city, her generation and how she sees the city from a very surrealistic perspective,” says Mitchell. In some ways the exhibition reflects developments in technology and online practices. These developments have had a significant impact on society and culture especially in developing countries like China. A boom in online culture in the early- to mid- 2000s created an interest in artifi cial worlds and now through social networking the line between real and virtual is even more blurred. Cao Fei Theatrical Mirror: Living Between the Real and the Unreal Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia Sunday, September 14 to Monday, October 20 cacsa.org.au