One of the most innovative young artists to have emerged from China, Cao Fei creates multimedia projects that explore the experiences of young Chinese citizens as they develop strategies for overcoming and escaping the realities of a rapidly changing society. Mixing social commentary, pop aesthetics, references to Surrealism, and documentary conventions in her films and installations, the artist reflects on the swift and chaotic changes occurring in Chinese society.
The interplay between fantasy and reality animates much of the artist’s work. In COSPlayers (2004), a work comprised of video and photography, the artist embedded in Chinese cosplay communities, groups of young people that gather to dress up as imaginary Japanese anime characters. In wild and complex outfits, they romp around the artist's hometown of Guangzhou, a city known less for its imaginative character than for its industrial manufacturing. In RMB City (2007) the artist worked through an avatar named China Tracy, spending several years developing a virtual city in the online role-playing game Second Life, combining what the artist terms “overabundant symbols of Chinese reality with cursory imaginings of the country’s future.” The result is a Technicolor playground of floating architectural icons and aerial shopping malls bedecked with Mao statues. In her video Whose Utopia? (2006), workers at a lighting factory wildly role-play their own personal fantasies—dancing or playing guitar—within their mundane industrial environment. In all of these works, by collapsing extreme versions of the everyday and the fantastical into one, the artist is able to vividly underscore the interior and exterior worlds of global, digital citizens navigating extreme change. The presentation at MoMA PS1 presents a summary of the artist’s work to date across a range of mediums, including video, photography, sculpture and installation, and will takes place in MoMA PS1’s First Floor Main Galleries.