Cao Fei, Prison Architect (still). 2018.
UCCA presents Cao Fei’s first institutional solo exhibition in China: Cao Fei: A Hollow in a World Too Full. The exhibition features the artist’s newly commissioned work, Prison Architect, a new film that is shown here in a specially conceived installation setting. The film, directed by Cao Fei and commissioned by Tai Kwun Contemporary, centers on two fictional characters separated by time but connected by the space in which the exhibition itself unfolds: an inmate of the Victoria Prison which forms an integral part of Tai Kwun (played by the artist Kwan Sheung Chi), and an architect tasked with converting this prison into a gallery (played by Valerie Chow Kar Ling).
In addition to Prison Architect, it includes a selection of works from the last ten years of Cao Fei’s practice, a period during which she has focused on film and installation art, exploring alternative realities, automated futures, and derelict dreams. Cao Fei’s artistic repertoire partakes of social commentary, popular aesthetics, Surrealist references, and documentary conventions. The exhibition title, taken from a line in the film, also evokes the ways in which her work describes the chaotic changes within contemporary Chinese reality, yet creates hollows, set apart from this reality, in which to question and reflect upon it.
Other works on view present Cao Fei’s rich imaginings of different worlds—whether apocalyptic, virtual, or automated. The installation, Rumba, is named after the diminutive cleaning robot—normally a domestic sidekick but promoted, here, to the protagonist of a brave new world of Cao Fei’s imagining. I Mirror recounts her initial plunge into the online community of Second Life, where she spent ten hours a day on her digital avatar, China Tracy; the work anticipates the growing appeal of virtual reality in youth cultures across the globe. RMB City, also constructed in Second Life in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics, is a Chinese metropolis and a hodgepodge of structures, permanently under construction. La Town’s creolized title hints at the strange, heterogeneous blend of people who populate its elaborate, decidedly analogue, architectural models; the film is an exploration of decadence and decline—halfway through, a nameless catastrophe strikes, and the city is turned into a dystopia. Finally, in Coming Soon, Cao counterposes twins sitting on swings, manically beating drums with their feet, in a parody of recreational happiness.
The exhibition evinces Cao’s rigorous commitment to finding new expressive vocabularies, and her continued engagement with the people who populate, create, and encounter her work.
(Photo courtesy of Tai Kwun.)