Cao Fei is one of the most influential and internationally renowned Chinese media artists of our time with recent exhibitions in the Centre Pompidou, the Venice Biennale or the Secession Vienna. Her works are represented in major international collections as Tate Modern or MOMA respectively. Daniel Lippitsch met with Cao Fei at the launch of her latest monograph “I watched that worlds pass by” in collaboration with the Daimler Art Collection at Haus Huth in Berlin to talk about her recent video works and underlying motives.
Being predominantly situated in the genre of multimedia art, did you have trouble with visualizing your projects in the form of printed stills and added text for the current publication or did this add another dimension to your work?
Besides organizing and rearranging the past works, this artist book also acts as a new creation beneath different dimensions of several works.
Could you tell me more about the three presented works: Haze and Fog, RMB City and LA TOWN and at what point do they start interacting with each other as there must have been a reason for the choice of exactly this works being presented together?
Haze and Fog (2013), RMB City (2007 – 2011) and La Town (2014) could be a benchmark separated from my previous works. According to the dimension of time, these are works which I executed in Beijing – after I left my hometown Guangzhou in 2006. On a spatial dimension, these fundamentally relate to topics like architectural scenery and social space. Whether it is RMB City – a ‘digital city’ in Second Life’s (the £D online virtual game) virtual space which was created in a ratio of 1:87 architecture model set to form ‘the world’s end’. La Town; or Haze and Fog build up on the idea of a modern housing compound in Beijing. The concrete forms given through the architecture echo a kind of paradoxical contrast to themselves and the focus blurs in and out between the real and virtual world.
These years, to me, were an experience of marriage, having babies and to become a mother of two. Time seemed to be slowed down, yet the current of the river of life brings out new sensibilities and opens up the riverbed.
To pick one singular work, I wanted to talk about the video Haze and Fog. It describes very delicately how technology distracts people not only from each other but also from the world surrounding them. This zombie world of controlled bodies stumbling through grey building complexes, disrupted by defined musical parts and very humanized scenes. How do you personally stand to the current developments concerning the adaption of technology in the daily life and how should art be engaging in this circuit?
We can not change the direction where the world is going as well as we can not stop Doomsday from becoming reality (if there is going to be one). Art and literature are the most humorous and critical comments to society in this sense. I try to replicate ‘subjective realities’, yet these ‘realities’ are not deviated from the objective realities. The world’s rapid development and the confused, misplaced sequences of humanity and between generations are like the real-time transmission errors of separated sound and images in cable TV. We are living in these ‘errors’.
Could you speak about your impression of the general current state of the Chinese society and how art can pay a vital part in curing society issues? Is film the right medium for that as it is easily accessible for everyone?
The society of China is at a point of change between the new and the past. It is filtering problems of over-development. The energy of the arts is weak among the whole scale of China’s society as people’s desires are a lot broader and art could be ignored.
Images, films or any moving images today are still important channels of media. They are attached to the internet and circulated quickly. The paradox is that, under the age of excessive information, individuals, as the sources of information and image producers, create the power of video art and its decline at the same time. It is being consumed and digested by this rapid system. Individual opinions and video clips are everywhere in the internet which at some point established a barrier we won’t dare to look at. Fragmented social reality and individualism – on one side it is freedom and on the other side it is an endless siege.
Haze and Fog seems furthermore to be quite “Westernised” in its aesthetic adaptions through the usage of zombies etc. You furthermore grew up in Guangzhou, which was one of the first regions opening to the West early on. To what extend did that influence your artistic inspiration and are they important for the realization of your projects?
The discussion to either declare a work of art as ‘eastern’ or western’ has disappeared among many new generation artists. Though the ‘oriental’ or ‘eastern’ element might be something common to look forward to in a western perception.
My visual sense, aesthetics, art education and cultural exposure are a mixture of postmodern elements – an integration of all kinds of cultural perspectives that came to China at the beginning of the internet era and was part of globalization in general.
It is like we are at a buffet restaurant. Western food and Chinese food and Southeast Asian food are all on your plate. Some cooked and some are cold. It could be dumplings, sausages and chicken drumsticks yet you won’t get sick after you put all those in your stomach. The internet era signifies aspects like ‘flat’ and ‘real-time’ which culminates in ‘living at the time’. ‘Real life’ is an important part of our physical ‘reality’ and ‘online’ is a general, abstract, selected second-hand ‘reality’. It might still not be able to take the heaviness of the Chinese society of flesh and blood. Therefore, I am lost in all these layers of ‘reality’, complex expressions, different inner and outer worlds, ups and downs. My work could be an attempt to attach different relations in the lost sphere with some lines and robes. What you saw could be the ghost images – the double image when you took off your 3D glasses at the cinema.
// Interview by Daniel Lippitsch