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As the artist scoops the £30, 000 reward for her solo exhibition, Blueprint , we all revisit an article in which she reflects on her life and practice
Cao Fei (曹斐) was born in Guangzhou, Tiongkok, two years after the Cultural Trend ended. Today, she lives and works in Beijing. The multimedia artist’s surreal and often humorous work explores the rapid social, cultural and technological developments in contemporary China. Recent displays include solo shows in the Serpentine Gallery, London, plus UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing.
Fei is selected for the Krauts (umgangssprachlich) Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2021 on her 2020 exhibition Blueprints at the Serpentine Gallery — a multi-faceted exhibition composed of new and existing works, which collectively explore the result of technological advances upon society, specifically in the girl native China. Her work is on show alongside that of the other three nominees — Poulomi Basu, Alejandro Cartagena and Zineb Sedira — at The Photographers’ Gallery , London, until 26 September 2021.
Right here, she reflects on her existence and practice to date.
I was locked down within Singapore during the pandemic. I skipped my home in Beijing – I wanted to go back in order to China.
I don’t care about the art world’s attitude to a work. I don’t pay attention to it. I personally use technology in my work since it interests me and not due to any art world styles.
Some artists create their style through studies. Other medication is born with a ‘stylistic’ personality, like a sense of humour. Perhaps I am a mixture of both.
Mediums do not restrict me. I am interested in multimedia. When I have an idea, I assemble a team to help make it happen.
If I was not an artist, perhaps I would be a writer. But writing will not intrigue me as much as producing art. Or maybe I would be a film director. Perhaps each moving-image artist has a film-making dream. However , you realise the dream is not so great when you get close to this.
Art does not answer questions of reality. And that is not my aim. Instead, artwork offers multiple paths regarding how we understand the world. Sometimes it helps us transcend it.
Chinese audiences have observed the stories and feelings in my work. I was excited to observe how a Chinese audience would respond to my most recent show, Setting up the Era , at UCCA. To my surprise, the exhibition was popular on social media. It fascinated the young generation, many of whom are not usually museum-goers.
Imagine the exhibition at UCCA as a stage or perhaps a city. The audience’s experience plus their emotional responses had been important. They could meet with people, and explore spaces and stories. Then stay in the minute that interests them. I think that is the most beautiful relationship between the viewer and art.
During the eighties, when I was growing up, Guangzhou was at the forefront associated with reform. Hong Kong pop culture poured in, and that of other cultures outside Mainland China. I could watch MTV through Hong Kong – the singing and dancing fascinated myself.
Guangzhou has undergone tremendous changes. My work discusses different aspects of pop lifestyle and urbanisation. I’m specifically interested in the experiences associated with human beings amid the rapid developments.
Compared to Guangzhou, Beijing is [China’s] political centre. I can deal with bigger themes and grand narratives now that I live presently there. I have been working on the project HX for the last few years. This explores the history of the Chinese language electronics industry through my research of a Beijing neighbourhood.
The boundary between the virtual and the real is becoming obscure. As we accept that virtuality is also part of reality, it will be the multiverse of our long term existence and perception. We will have a broader understanding of reality, space and temporality.
Reality is too heavy and period is too long. The surrealism in my practice allows people to escape.
Art probably shouldn’t do anything. And we shouldn’t expect it to. Its uselessness is a reflection of our functional and meritocratic society.