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Sharjah Biennial 14: Leaving the Echo Chamber Ocula Report Sharjah Biennial 14: Leaving the Echo Chamber 15 Mar 2019 : Stephanie Bailey for Ocula

In Meiro Koizumi's three-channel video installation, The Angels of Testimony (2019), the central frame features an interview with Hajime Kondo about his time as a solider of the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The conversation centres on war crimes perpetrated in China, including the beheading of Chinese prisoners for...

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Diana Campbell Betancourt Ocula Conversation Diana Campbell Betancourt

Diana Campbell Betancourt is a curator working predominantly across South and Southeast Asia. Since 2013 she has been the founding artistic director of the Samdani Art Foundation and chief curator of the Dhaka Art Summit in Dhaka, Bangladesh, a transnational art event that has grown in size and scale ever since its first edition in 2012. Backed by...

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Chinternet Ugly at Manchester’s Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art Ocula Report Chinternet Ugly at Manchester’s Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art 7 Mar 2019 : Mike Pinnington for Ocula

China, home to 802 million internet users, is subject to sophisticated online censorship. This shrouded state of affairs, unsurprisingly perhaps, serves to reinforce stereotypes around conformity elsewhere. Any realm, digital or otherwise, subject to such strict scrutiny must necessarily be bland and uncritical, right? I was mulling over such...

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Cao Fei

b. 1978, China

Known for her films and multimedia installations, Cao Fei is one of China's most well-known contemporary artists. Working across photography, video, and digital media, Cao explores permeating alienation in a changing China characterised by rapid development and urban growth. She is particularly interested in popular culture, technology's effect on human relations, and the role of fantasy in youth subcultures.

Cao's practice has always been deeply invested in film. Made while she was still a student in art school, her first work, Imbalance 257 (1999), was an experimental video about disenfranchised youth rejecting Chinese traditions. Soon after, Cao began using Surrealist strategies to make her social commentaries. Chain Reaction (2000) shows an eerie footage of morbid figures wearing medical uniforms and heavy theatre makeup to comment on the presence of evil in daily life, while the two-minute video Burners (2003) saw two hooded actors interact with a dangling banana, dead fish, and potted sex toy in order to parody male erotic egocentricity.

Over the years, Cao's work has been consistently concerned with the ability of pop culture, technology, and the virtual world to provide a means of escape. In her eight-minute 2004 video Cosplayers, Cao focused on disillusioned youth who find refuge in video games and fictional characters. By donning the costumes of their favourite characters, the young people in the film could escape the ennui of their ordinary lives.

Similarly, and launched in 2008, the project 'RMB City' is based around an imaginary city made by Cao on the virtual world-building game Second Life. Using the platform, Cao created a fantastical futuristic city that 'combin[ed] overabundant symbols of Chinese reality with cursory imaginings of the country's future.' The project was attributed to Cao's online avatar, China Tracy, and was first exhibited in RMB City (2008) at the Serpentine Gallery in London. In 2009, Cao followed up with RMB City Opera, a 40-minute experimental performance inspired by Cultural Revolution-era propaganda plays.

Exploring again the power of imagination to subvert dehumanising labour, Cao undertook an extended residency at a lighting factory outside of Guangzhou in 2006. Over the period of six months, Cao interacted with the workers (most of whom were migrants to the Pearl River Delta from other parts of China), seeking to understand their lives beyond the assembly line. To Cao, the factory stood in as a symbol of China's rapid integration into a global capitalistic market and its subsequent human cost. Her time at the factory culminated in the 20-minute film Whose Utopia (2006), in which the employees temporarily abandon their repetitive work to perform their talents, passions and dreams; the video shows labourers doing tai chi, dancing, and playing music.

Cao's interest in urban life was continued in the dystopian film La Town (2014). Featured in the 56th Venice Biennale and based on Marguerite Duras' novel Hiroshima Mon Amour, the film tells the story of a small town struck by an unspecified disaster. Instead of actors and life-size sets, however, Cao uses miniature clay models and plastic toys to convey the film's narrative. Made the next year, the video Splendid River (2015) focused on a building in Guangzhou that replicates Vienna's Secession, which Cao used to comment on the culture of copying in China that has arisen from globalisation. The video was exhibited during Cao's solo show Splendid River at the actual Secession, for which the artist mounted Chinese characters on the Austrian building's facade so as to mimic its bootleg copy in Guangzhou.

In 2015, the artist began incorporating robotic vacuum cleaners into her work, a symbol of the preternatural technological development that appears frequently throughout her practice. In Rumba II: Nomad (2015), the vacuums clean up dust and debris in an area undergoing demolition on the outskirts of Beijing. Also focusing on robots was her 2018 Robert H N Ho Family Foundation Chinese Art Initiative commission Asia One (2018), an hour-long film that followed two lonely human protagonists and one robot in a factory where humans are no longer needed. The film was shot inside the world's first fully automated sorting centre in Kunshan, Jiangsu Province.

Cao's films are often accompanied by installations that echo their videos; when exhibited in One Hand Clapping at the Solomon R Guggenheim in New York in 2018, Asia One was screened in a room full of e-commerce paraphernalia and documentation. Similarly, when the site-specific film Prison Architect (2018) was shown in 2018 exhibition A Hollow in a World Too Full at Tai Kwun Contemporary in Hong Kong, sets from the film's production were presented throughout the institution's galleries. Music is also integral to her films, serving as a tool for quoting disparate cultural references.

Cao earned a BFA from the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in 2001. In 2006, she received the Chinese Contemporary Art Award Best Young Artist Award, and in 2010 she was a nominee for the Future Generation Art Prize and a finalist for the Hugo Boss Prize.

Cao currently lives and works in Beijing.

Elliat Albrecht | Ocula | 2019
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Recent Exhibitions

Contemporary art exhibition, Cao Fei, La Town at Jane Lombard Gallery, New York
10 September–25 October 2014 Cao Fei La Town Jane Lombard Gallery, New York

Represented By

In Ocula Magazine

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Cao Fei Ocula Conversation Cao Fei Artist

Cao Fei's first large-scale institutional exhibition in Asia, A hollow in a world too full (8 September 2018–4 January 2019), is taking place at Tai Kwun Contemporary in Hong Kong, the city's new non-profit art centre housed in a former colonial police and prison complex in Central. Organised in collaboration with Ullens Center for Contemporary Art...

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One Hand Clapping at the Guggenheim Museum, New York Ocula Report One Hand Clapping at the Guggenheim Museum, New York 31 Aug 2018 : David Xu Borgonjon for Ocula

In the catalogue for One Hand Clapping, the final in a trilogy of commission-based shows focusing on art from Greater China organised by the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation and the Guggenheim Museum New York (4 May–21 October 2018), curator Xiaoyu Weng poses what she admits is a provocative question to consulting curator Hou Hanru: 'Do you think...

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One belt, one road, one  biennale: Yinchuan's stand against cultural desertification Ocula Report One belt, one road, one biennale: Yinchuan's stand against cultural desertification 1 Nov 2016 : Sam Gaskin for Ocula

Over 70 artists from 33 countries are represented in the inaugural Yinchuan Biennale, which opened amidst scandal on 9 September 2016. Not included is a work by Ai Weiwei, who was invited to take part alongside other art stars Yoko Ono and Anish Kapoor before being disinvited just weeks before the opening.In a tweet, Ai connects the...

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Four exhibitions to see in Hong Kong this Spring Ocula Report Four exhibitions to see in Hong Kong this Spring 14 Apr 2016 : Diana d'Arenberg for Ocula

Afterwork at Para Site19 March to 29 May 2016In a city where the problems and issues facing migrant workers—who make up approximately 4% of the population, and are mainly women—are seldom addressed, and where stories of injustice and tales of domestic-helper abuse by employers have been making headlines in the past couple of...

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In Related Press

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how has the internet changed the way we interact with art? Related Press how has the internet changed the way we interact with art? i-D Vice : 26 June 2018

The state of the "millennial" is a complex and nebulous thing. Some define Generation X by its widespread affinity for decorative succulents. Some note an eye for a very specific, and hotly debated, shade of apricot-salmon pink. Others scorn millennials for the remorseless, cold-blooded murder of wine corks, the napkin industry, and...

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M+ Screenings: City Limits at Broadway Cinematheque, Hong Kong Related Press M+ Screenings: City Limits at Broadway Cinematheque, Hong Kong Art Radar : 2 August 2017

Featuring 15 videos and films, M+ Screenings: City Limits will be held at Broadway Cinematheque in Yau Ma Tei, Hong Kong, from 4 to 6 August 2017. The programme is organised in conjunction with the exhibition Canton Express at M+ Pavilion in the West Kowloon Cultural District, Hong Kong. Located on Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour, M+ is Hong Kong's...

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Back to the future: Cao Fei brings the BMW Art Car into the digital age Related Press Back to the future: Cao Fei brings the BMW Art Car into the digital age Wallpaper* : 13 June 2017

A time-travelling monk leaves a dramatic mountainous setting in what appears to be ancient China. He sets off by foot, walking through time toward a nameless megacity. With a composed expression and dressed in traditional costume, we see him pass by fragments of modern China—mass construction of soulless high rises, super highways with...

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Art in the Digital Era: MoMA PS1 and K11 Art Foundation co-present '.com/.cn' in Hong Kong Related Press Art in the Digital Era: MoMA PS1 and K11 Art Foundation co-present '.com/.cn' in Hong Kong Art Radar Journal : 18 April 2017

'.com/.cn', co-curated by Klaus Biesenbach and Peter Eleey of MoMA PS1 in New York, is on view at the K11 Art Foundation Pop-up Space, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong from 21 March to 30 April 2017. The exhibition is co-presented by MoMA PS1 and the K11 Art Foundation. The group show includes work by Darren Bader, Cao Fei, DIS, Aleksandra Domanović, Greg...

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