There is a before and after Cao Fei. Or at least there is a before and after RMB City.
The Chinese artist (born in 1978) used the platform of the virtual online game Second Life to create a fictional city in 2007 which takes its name from the Chinese currency RMB (for Renminbi).
The stars of the Chinese flag
In this island-city embodiment of burgeoning capitalism where you can spot famous architectural landmarks, this woman’s digital ghost has given birth in candy colours to a multitude of icons and also waste. You can wander through the large city where the stars of the Chinese flag float in the sky overhead.
Here Marcel Duchamp’s bicycle wheel stands spinning on a giant scale, like a threat over the skyline, and the great God, money, which even lends its name to the place, makes buildings spring up like mushrooms.
This future conceived using an innovative model by a Chinese woman was a precursor for what the old Middle Kingdom would go on to do even better.
Since then Cao Fei’s output has been diverse. She’s worked on the topic of dating sites and for the BMW Art Cars, among other things.
Converted studio cinema
I visited her in December 2015 at her studio in Beijing, a converted community cinema in the district of Hongxia, where time stood still.
In the catalogue for his exhibition at the Tate in London, the Danish artist Olafur Eliasson (see the report on the subject) publishes an interview with Cao Fei in which he makes a fascinating observation about the artist’s work:
“What I like so much in your work is that when I look at it, I feel Im in fact looking at my own world. Even though your artworks often deal with a specific narrative relating to the local circumstances with which you are very familiar, I can identify with them. They make me re-evaluate my own local circumstances (…)When I show my photographs of Iceland in Iceland it’s like showing sand in the Sahara. But I do think you add something and I hope I do too. It’s like showing local circumstances in a higher resolution, or under a microscope”.
Now Cao Fei is the one who’s coming to Paris, to the Centre Pompidou. She brings with her testimonies from her home district, which speak of a time and a style that have all but disappeared in a Beijing now transformed on various fronts into RMB City, but also with the presentation of an extraordinary film.
Nova, new film
She created the film Nova in the name of the new town she has invented, on the very general theme of the expansion of technology in China, and space exploration. It also raises the issue of repression and hyper-connectivity in a series of enigmatic scenes.
It’s a fascinating hybrid product. Hybrid because it’s a cinematic film yet one that has to be seen in a museum so visitors can enter and leave at will. Hybrid also because the temporality is disorienting.
Retro science fiction
It deals with the future, but how the future was imagined in the past: a retro science fiction. Moreover, the video world is often fast-paced but with Cao Fei it is particularly slow.
No Hollywood diktats
She explains that she doesn’t want a film that follows Hollywood diktats. A fascinating world.
Until 26 August. www.centrepompidou.fr
Here is the pitch for the film:
“The film is set in the fictional town of ‘Nova’. It tells an allegoric story of a scientist who works at a computer engineering firm. The company is actively pursuing a secret project, together with other foreign experts, to turn humans into a digital medium in order to intercept and collect large volumes of data. The scientist, who is also one of the leaders of the project, tries to force a major breakthrough by experimenting on his own son. His attempt fails miserably and the son pays the price, becoming a digital ghost that only exists in the cyber world. Trapped between the past and the future, dreams and reality, the son is a lost soul that seeks to connect on the human level once again”.
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