Cao Fei on the Serpentine Gallery: the place digital and actual worlds meet


She is on our facet. The Chinese language multimedia artist Cao Fei is on the facet of her viewers. In her feature-length (1 hr 45 min) movie, “Nova”, she usually cuts to the viewers, particularly the daddy and son watching the movie, who’re additionally the primary characters.

Her solo exhibition, Cao Fei: Blueprints, which opened on the Serpentine Gallery in London in March earlier than closing at some stage in the lockdown, reopens on August 4. The present’s first room is remodeled into the lobby of a cinema within the Beijing district of Hongxia. The artist is welcoming you in.

The primary room of the exhibition has been remodeled to seem like the lobby of a cinema © Gautier Deblonde

It takes some time to get into “Nova”, however because it performs out, one realises that it’s a modern-day Frankenstein. Mary Shelley and Cao are each feminists for his or her instances. Li Nova, the kid taken to the Hongxia cinema, is not any monster, however like Victor Frankenstein’s creature he believes he’s unloved. He spends his time, and he has 40 years of it, wandering house in a deferred timezone that his scientist father created for him as a security web. As a younger man he laments that “for my father I used to be a kilometre wave, a decametre wave, knowledge.”

There’s a pathetic scene the place he sees his father following the graphs and knowledge on the opposite facet of the display screen and says: “Expensive daddy, preserving a powerful reference to you’ll assist me perceive why I preserve going … I’m only a check topic.”

Life is hard in Cao’s world. A succession of brutalised city environments and space-scapes dominate. The wandering boy feels “sorry for time because it can’t take its personal life”. When his father, the Professor, is dying, he’s nonetheless making an attempt to make sense of the infinite knowledge with which he was bombarded. His dying phrases are a litany, making an attempt to rework feelings into power ranges (disappointment 203 hertz, starvation 130 hertz and amour 14 hertz). But he does consider the Russian love of his life. His son too is alive and “doesn’t know {that a} younger woman is considering him”.

Set up view of Cao Fei’s ‘Blueprints’ on the Serpentine Gallery © Gautier Deblonde

On the coronary heart of the exhibition is a digital actuality piece, “The Everlasting Wave”, created in collaboration with Acute Artwork. A site-specific work, it makes use of archival materials and precise components of the artist’s studio in Beijing. Fellow artist Marina Abramović endorsed it, saying it was the most effective VR piece she had skilled. Throughout the gallery’s shutdown, the piece has been prolonged with a brand new augmented actuality model, to be seen by way of guests’ smartphones, of the kitchen house during which “The Everlasting Wave” begins. It’s an interlinked work that additional expands on Cao’s exploration of her key themes, the interaction of the actual and the digital and the methods during which expertise has modified our understanding of human realities.

I had all the time assumed that Cao was extra about sharing our realities than digital actuality per se. But she does perceive the difficulties of expertise. Her “RMB Metropolis” (2008-11), re-presented within the Serpentine Gallery foyer, is maybe essentially the most profitable art work to have used the web. After all, expertise marches on, so it’s nearly not possible to understand totally the work’s try to contain a large viewers in constructing and residing in a digital metropolis on the net platform Second Life. We will solely view it now like an archived destroy, because the persons are not residing it any extra.

Mockingly, when the exhibition was closed, it was in some methods simpler to grasp Cao’s achievements, with key works on-line. The primary purpose is that the museum/gallery system nonetheless doesn’t know how you can current some progressive artists like Cao, artists who’re revealing the issues in the best way we reside. Curators need to develop new methods to point out works like “Nova”. It’s not a simple movie. A complete exhibition could possibly be dedicated to it. The movie must be accessed in a number of methods, in order that the viewer can work together extra successfully with the themes about time and the way we’re utilizing it.

The exhibition contains works reminiscent of Cao Fei’s ‘Whose Utopia?’ (2006) © Courtesy the artist, Vitamin Artistic House and Sprüth Magers

Cao’s mischievous sense of pleasure is typically properly hidden, nevertheless it offers chew to her satire on the legacies of capitalism and communism, two discredited however not changed methods. In a lavish movie she made for a BMW fee, the primary character strides by way of historical past, to a pounding beat. He begins off as a confident monk and transforms into an equally assured trendy man. But the title is “Unmanned”. The male chauvinism invested within the automobile enterprise takes successful. Is it the machine that’s attractive or the person?

A scene from Cao Fei’s ‘Asia One’ (2018) © Vitamin Artistic House and Sprüth Magers

Cao has had a meteoric profession. She was quantity 17 on the 2019 Artwork Evaluation Energy 100. She has simply been included in a youngsters’s e book, Ladies’s Artwork Work, of 30 feminine artists who’ve modified the world. She has had current exhibitions at key establishments reminiscent of MoMA PS1 (New York), the Pompidou and Okay21 (Düsseldorf).

Chinese language artist Cao Fei © 9mouth

Most significantly, her work has constantly jumped out of the field that we wish to put artworks in. The Serpentine has organized for us to see on-line her Artwork Basel Hong Kong fee of 2015. She took over the surfaces of one of many metropolis’s largest skyscrapers and turned them right into a online game. In “Identical Outdated, Model New” (2015), the skulls, operating males, clouds, missiles, and the repetitive, addictive robotic muzak take over considered one of Hong Kong’s largest buildings. It radiates a perverse liberation. Sure, Cao Fei is on our facet.

August 4-September 13,


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