The contemporary moment has become highly contaminated by our inability to tell the difference between the real and the virtual. The digital interaction reflects on our everyday life to such a great extent that the majority of humans are not even capable to critically articulate and dismantle certain patterns of behavior present virtually.
An array of artists are exploring the effects of digitization on our existence, and the approaches differ in media, approach and aesthetic. For instance, the artist Cao Fei has been dealing with the notion of virtuality for quite a long time by fusing it with popular culture, documentary conventions and social critique of the shifting nature of contemporary Chinese society.
The upcoming exhibition at the Serpentine Galleries will be the artist’s first large-scale institutional solo presentation in the UK, and it will include both recent and a couple of older works.
Cao Fei’s fascination with virtuality is present in her work from the initial explorations of utopic and dystopic potentials of contemporary cities, the escapisms of users experiencing Second Life, the famous virtual platform, to the alienating effects of mechanized labor in China. However, despite all the difficulties, the characters in her videos/films often use technology to rethink the collective future.
For this occasion, the selected works will be presented in a form of immersive installation aimed to tackle the themes of automation and virtuality. The artist expressed her artistic position in a brief statement:
For me virtuality is a means to express myself, to understand reality, which is what I’m interested in. I use writing and film too, but we are living in an age of rapid technology and in this context, we need to know that virtuality has changed the way reality works. And to do this we need to be part of it.
At the core of the exhibition will be a new Virtual Reality project titled The Eternal Wave; this site-specific installation will be made of collected archival material and furniture reminiscent of elements found at Cao Fei’s Beijing studio, as well as the artist’s latest film Nova. The installation will function as a final result of Cao Fei’s research that was conducted in Beijing over the last five years exploring the social history and urban transformation of the city’s Jiuxianqiao (‘Hong Xia’) district where she lives and works.
The visitors will be able to see Cao Fei’s earliest piece called Whose Utopia? (2006) in a dialog with the more recent one called Asia One (2018); these two films examine the influence of automation on the human body, while the film released in 2014, La Town, features a post-apocalyptic cityscape presented in a form of stop-motion animation.
Cao Fei’s work RMB City: A Second Life City Planning will be presented in the Serpentine Gallery lobby.
The upcoming exhibition as a whole will usher the debate regarding the tangled relationship between the virtual and the physical space while offering alternative realities and enabling immersive cinematic experience.
Cao Fei: Blueprints will be on display at Serpentine Galleries in London from 4 March until 17 May 2020.
Featured images: Cao Fei - La Town, 2014, Video, 41’58”. Courtesy the artist, Vitamin Creative Space and Sprüth Magers; Nova, 2019. Video, 109’. Courtesy the artist, Vitamin Creative Space and Sprüth Magers. All images courtesy Serpentine Galleries.