Transcript: The Tenacious Alchemy of China's Cao Fei | Jul 24, 2019

The name of the show appears in white letters against different colourful abstract backgrounds. It reads “Brilliant Ideas.”

A song says I-D-E-A-S
IDEAS

(music box plays)

The Narrator says SKILFULLY
TRANSFORMING NEW TECHNOLOGIES
INTO A LANGUAGE OF ART,
CAO FEI IS ONE OF THE MOST
GROUND-BREAKING AND TALKED
ABOUT ARTISTS OF HER
GENERATION.

Meg is in her mid-fifties, with shoulder-length blond hair. She wears a blue patterned sweater with black sleeves.

In an art gallery, Meg says I THINK SHE IS EXTREMELY
TALENTED, SHE IS TENACIOUS, AND
HER WORK SPEAKS TO A UNIVERSAL
AUDIENCE.

Philip is in his mid-forties, clean-shaven with brown hair. He wears a gray jacket, glasses and a white open-necked shirt.

Philip says SHE GIVES A PICTURE TO PEOPLE
WHO ARE MAYBE OUTSIDE OF CHINA
OF WHAT IT MIGHT LOOK AND FEEL
LIKE TO BE A YOUNG PERSON HERE
AND NOW.

The Narrator says HER SENSITIVITY TO SOCIAL
CHANGE ALLOWS HER TO PRODUCE
WORKS THAT SPARK DEEPER
REFLECTION.

Fast clips show the artists taking pictures in the street and fragments of her audiovisual work.

Jocelyn is in her mid-twenties with long hair curly brown hair. She wears a green blouse and a long silver necklace.

Sitting in an elegant room, Jocelyn says SHE HAS AN AMAZING SHARP WIT
AND THAT OFTEN IS PAIRED WITH
SOMETHING THAT’S VERY POETIC.

Alexandra is in her late fifties with long straight light brown hair. She wears a black and white shirt with a geometric pattern and long metallic earrings.

Alexandra says SHE IS ALLOWING US TO SORT
OF GO DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE
WITH HER.
WE FOLLOW HER TO THESE SPACES,
AND IT HELPS US TO UNDERSTAND
THE WORLD WE LIVE IN.

Cao Fei is in her late thirties with short blond hair. She wears a black coat over a black and white modern shirt.

Cao says IN THINK MY ROLE
IS TO OBSERVE.
IT’S LIKE YOU, OR SOMEBODY.
I’M AN ARTIST, BUT MY ROLE
IS ALSO TO OBSERVE THE WORLD
CHANGING.

Now, Cao stands outside an old building.

Cao says HI, I’M CAO FEI.
WELCOME TO MY STUDIO.

The Narrator says CAO FEI LIVES AND WORKS IN
BEIJING.
HER STUDIO USED TO BE A FAMOUS
OLD CINEMA-- A FITTING WORKING
SPACE FOR AN ARTIST WHO
PRODUCES MOVING IMAGES.

Cao says IN THIS SPACE I FEEL LIKE
I’M IN A DIFFERENT TIME.
IT’S LIKE IN OLDEN TIMES.
MANY OF MY WORKS ARE
ABOUT THE FUTURE, ABOUT
THE CONTEMPORARY.
BUT THIS SPACE MAKES ME
THINK ABOUT HISTORY,
SO IT INSPIRES ME TO DO
SOMETHING ABOUT
OLDEN TIMES.

A series of family pictures flash by.

The Narrator says BORN IN 1978, CAO FEI WAS
RAISED BY A FAMILY OF ARTISTS.
BOTH HER PARENTS ARE SCULPTORS
AND TAUGHT AT THE GUANGZHOU
ACADEMY OF FINE ARTS, WHERE
THEY ALSO LIVED.

Cao says AS A KID I HAD A LOT OF
INFORMATION FROM THE LIBRARY
ABOUT PICASSO, DALI.
COMPARED TO MY CLASSMATES IN SCHOOL,
I THINK IT WAS A QUITE DIFFERENT
EXPERIENCE TO GET
SO MUCH INFORMATION ABOUT ART.

The Narrator says IT WAS THIS EXPERIENCE THAT
GAVE CAO FEI AN EARLY START.
IN FACT, IT WAS HER FATHER WHO
INTRODUCED HER TO THE WORLD
OF MOVING IMAGES IN HER EARLY
TEENS.

Cao says MY FATHER HAD A HOME VIDEO CAMERA
VERY EARLY ON.
HE BOUGHT THE CAMERA FROM JAPAN.
WHEN MY SISTER AND I TRIED TO USE IT,
WE WOULD PERFORM SOMETHING
IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA.
AND AT THE SAME TIME I WAS ALSO
DOING A LOT OF SCHOOL THEATRE.
THE STAGE WAS NOT ENOUGH FOR ME.
TOO LIMITED.
MOVING IMAGES IS A MUCH
BIGGER MEDIUM FOR ME TO TRY.

Pictures of theater plays appear.

The Narrator says CAO FEI WOULD USE THE MEDIUM
OF MOVING IMAGES NOT ONLY TO
DOCUMENT HER GENERATION’S
SEARCH FOR MEANING IN A RAPIDLY
CHANGING CHINA...
BUT ALSO HER OWN.
BORN IN THE LATE 1970S AND
GROWING UP IN THE ‘80S,
HER LIFE SPANS THE MOST
REMARKABLE TRANSFORMATION OF
ANY SOCIETY IN HISTORY.
IT WAS THIS PERIOD THAT DENG
XIAO PING OPENED THE COUNTRY TO
THE WORLD, AND GUANGZHOU, WHERE
SHE LIVED, BECAME THE GATEWAY
INTO CHINA.

A caption reads “Philip Tinari. Director. Ullens Center for Contemporary Art.”

Philip says GUANGZHOU IS THE INITIAL KIND
OF, BATTLEGROUND FOR THESE
POLICIES, IT WAS THE PLACE WHERE
YOU WOULD GO TO BUY BLUE JEANS
OR KIND OF, IMPORTED CIGARETTES,
PRODUCTS FROM THERE WOULD KIND
OF, FIND THEIR WAY ALL OVER
CHINA.

The caption changes to “Alexandra Moroe. Samsung Senior Curator, Asian Art. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.”

Alexandra says SHE SAW THIS RAPID
DEVELOPMENT SPINNING AROUND HER,
LITERALLY ON A DAILY BASIS.
NEIGHBOURHOODS BEING TORN DOWN,
URBAN DEVELOPMENT, RISING IN HER
VERY MIDST.
THESE INFLUENCED CAO FEI’S
IMAGINATION AS AN ARTIST VERY,
VERY EARLY.

The caption changes to “Imbalance 257, 1999.”

A clip shows young people with a defying attitude in a colourful store and an angry woman throwing small bags with a white substance into a public bathroom.

The Narrator says WHILE IN HER THIRD YEAR OF
UNIVERSITY AT THE GUANGZHOU
ACADEMY OF FINE ARTS, CAO FEI
MADE HER FIRST SHORT FILM.
TITLED
IMBALANCE 257,
IT IS A
REFLECTION OF HER REBELLION AND
THE SUBVERSIVE WAYS THAT HER
SCHOOLMATES PASSED THEIR TIME.

Cao says I THINK THAT PIECE IS PURE ME.
IT’S REALLY ABOUT MY HOME,
BECAUSE I WAS BORN THERE,
I’M FROM THERE, I WAS EDUCATED THERE.
SO IT REALLY RELATES MY PERSONAL
HISTORY.

The Narrator says AND IT IS THIS WORK THAT
SPARKED HER INTERNATIONAL
CAREER.
IN 2000, AN INDEPENDENT CURATOR
HOU HANRU, INCLUDED HER PIECE
IN
PHOTOESPANA,
AN ANNUAL
PHOTOGRAPHY FESTIVAL IN MADRID.

Philip says HOU HANRU WAS REALLY THE
FIRST CURATOR TO SHOW HER
PROPERLY, ALSO FROM THAT CITY,
BUT HAVING LIVED IN PARIS FOR
SOMETHING LIKE 20 YEARS AT THAT
POINT, STARTED TO THINK ABOUT
WHAT MIGHT A SPECIFICALLY
CANTONESE TAKE ON MODERNITY LOOK
LIKE?
AND SO TO BE PART OF THAT WAS
CERTAINLY IMPORTANT FOR HER.

The Narrator says IMBALANCE 257
WAS SUCH A
HIT, EVEN AI WEIWEI, THEN
ORGANISING AN AVANT-GARDE
EXHIBITION OF CHINESE
CONTEMPORARY ART, CAME
CALLING.
BUT THE YOUNGER CAO FEI HAD NO
CLUE WHO THE MAN ON THE OTHER
LINE WAS.

Cao says AI WEIWEI CALLED ME
ONE DAY.
I DON’T KNOW WHO HE WAS,
AND WE DIDN’T HAVE GOOGLE
YOU KNOW.
SO I COULDN’T DO ANY RESEARCH ON HIM,
JUST ASKED MY FRIEND LATER.
I DIDN’T KNOW HOW IMPORTANT
HE WAS AND WHO HE WAS,
BEFORE I MET HIM IN SHANGHAI.

Pictures of an art exhibition flash by.

The Narrator says IN THE EARLY 2000S, CAO FEI
SHIFTED HER FOCUS AND BEGAN
LOOKING INTO SUBCULTURES IN
CHINA.
BUT ONE SUBCULTURE THAT
PARTICULARLY PIQUED HER
INTEREST WOULD RESULT IN
ANOTHER CRITICALLY SUCCESSFUL
PIECE OF WORK.
IN 2004, SHE PRESENTED
COSPLAYERS,
AN EXTENSIVE VIDEO
AND PHOTO SERIES THAT
JUXTAPOSES THE FANTASY WORLD OF
COSTUME PLAY WITH THE REALITIES
OF MODERN CHINA.

Philip says SHE CREATED THIS REALLY
WONDERFUL AND REALLY ABSURD
SERIES OF PHOTOGRAPHS OF WHERE
YOU HAVE THESE CHARACTERS
APPEARING AGAINST THESE
BACKDROPS OF SKYSCRAPERS UNDER
CONSTRUCTION, OR IN THESE KINDS
OF OUTDOOR ZOOS THAT ARE
HAPPENING IN THE SUBURBS OF THE
CITY OF GUANGZHOU.

A clip shows cows walking near an urban monument.

Cao says ONE DAY I SAW A MAGAZINE
REPORT ON A COSPLAYER GROUP IN
GUANGZHOU.
SO I DID SOME BASIC RESEARCH ON THEM,
AND TRIED TO UNDERSTAND THEM MORE.
THE CHINESE SOCIETY CHANGES SO FAST,
THAT SOMETIMES THEY FEEL
THEY’VE LOST THEIR POWER.
THEY CAN ONLY IMAGINE
THAT THEY HAVE POWER
WHEN THEY DRESS UP.
SO I THINK THE COSTUMES
AND THE COSPLAYERS
ARE SYMBOLIC OF THEIR
GENERATION.

The caption changes to “Jocelyn Miller. Curational Associate. MOSA PSI.”

Jocelyn says IT’S THIS REALLY INTERESTING
PLACE WHERE YOU SEE HER COLLAPSE
THE FANTASY AND THE REAL, AND
YOU SEE THAT BOTH OF THESE
SPACES REALLY FUNCTION AS
OPPORTUNITIES TO EXAMINE WHAT
OUR EVERYDAY EXPERIENCE IS.
WHETHER WE’RE LOOKING AT A WORLD
THAT’S BEEN ARTIFICIALLY CREATED
OR WHETHER WE’RE LOOKING AT A
DIRECT DOCUMENTATION OF OUR OWN
REAL WORLD, BOTH PROVIDE THE
CHANCE FOR REFLECTION, AND I
THINK THAT IS SORT OF WHAT HER
WORK INVITES THE VIEWER TO DO.

(soft piano music plays)

The caption changes to “Whose Utopia? 2006.”

A clip shows a ballerina dancing in a factory.

The Narrator says OVER THE NEXT FEW YEARS, CAO
FEI CONTINUED TO EXPLORE
CONTEMPORARY CHINESE LIFE, NOW
CONCENTRATING ON THE IMPACT OF
GLOBALISATION ON CHINA.
IN 2006, SHE MADE A VIDEO NAMED
WHOSE UTOPIA?
THAT PUSHED
FACTORY LABOURERS WORKING IN
HOMOGENIZED PRODUCTION LINES TO
THINK ABOUT THEIR OWN HOPES AND
DREAMS.
WHETHER IT IS TO BE A TAI CHI
MASTER OR A PEACOCK DANCER,
CAO FEI PRESENTED HER
SIX-MONTH RESEARCH AT A
LIGHTING FACTORY IN THIS
EERILY BEAUTIFUL PIECE.

Cao says I’AM INTERESTED IN THE
CONDITION OF THE WORKERS,
AND I WANT TO QUESTION
WHAT THEIR IDEAL LIFE IS.
BECAUSE I HOPE THAT PIECE
CAN BRING SOME OF THE
QUESTIONS ON THE TABLE
OR PLACE THE ATTENTION
ON THEM AND QUESTION
THE AUDIENCE.
THE TITLE IS ‘WHOSE UTOPIA?’
ASKING THE SOCIETY
AND ALSO EVERYONE
TO WHOM DOES THIS
UTOPIA BELONG,
AND WHO WANST TO REALISE IT,
AND WHO MADE
THE WORLD LIKE THIS?

Philip says IT’S SUCH A MASSIVE SOCIETY,
IT’S SUCH A PRODUCTIVE SOCIETY.
AND SHE’S REALLY ONE OF THE FEW
ARTISTS WHO TRIES TO HUMANIZE
THAT, BY THINKING ABOUT THE
STORIES OF THE PEOPLE, KIND OF,
BEHIND THAT, AND NOT IN A
CONDESCENDING WAY, AND NOT IN A
SORT OF, ELEGIAC WAY, BUT REALLY
IN A KIND OF-- ALMOST AN
INVESTIGATIVE WAY, AND IN THE
END, A VERY FUN WAY.
THERE IS A PATHOS THERE, I MEAN,
THERE IS REALLY A SENSE OF
CONCERN ON HER BEHALF, FOR-- I
THINK, REALLY, FOR THE LIVES OF
HER FELLOW COUNTRY PEOPLE.

The Narrator says COMING UP, WE DISCOVER CAO
FEI’S WORLD AFTER HER NEXT BIG
MOVE, TO BEIJING.
AND VISIT HER FIRST SOLO MUSEUM
EXHIBITION IN THE UNITED
STATES.
CAO FEI HAILS FROM A SMALL
POOL OF FEMALE CHINESE ARTISTS
MAKING WAVES IN
THE INTERNATIONAL ART SCENE.
IN APRIL 2016, THE MUSEUM
OF MODERN ART PS1 IN NEW YORK
PRESENTED NOT JUST CAO FEI’S
FIRST SOLO SHOW IN THE UNITED
STATES, BUT ALSO THEIR FIRST
SOLO EXHIBITION OF A BEIJING-
BASED ARTIST.

Cao says IT’S A MORE RETROSPECTIVE
EXHIBITION.
SO YOU CAN VIEW MY EARLY PIECES,
TO THE MORE RECENT ONES.
FOR ME IT’S LIKE A REVEAL.
I’VE ALSO NOT HAD THE CHANCE
TO LOOK OVER
ALL MY WORK FROM THE PAST
TWENTY YEARS.
I THINK IT’S QUITE REMARKABLE,
AND VERY IMPORTANT IN MY LIFE.

Several small TV monitors show her films in an exhibition.

Jocelyn says SHE REALLY IS A CONDUIT FOR A
WESTERN ART WORLD TRYING TO
UNDERSTAND THE EXPLOSIVE
CREATIVE GROWTH THAT HAS
HAPPENED WITHIN SOME OF CHINA’S
MOST IMPORTANT URBAN CENTRES,
LIKE BEIJING, GUANGZHOU,
SHANGHAI.
SO I THINK SHE ALSO CAN BE SEEN
AN EMBLEM OF THAT COMMUNITY, AND
ALSO AS A GATEWAY INTO THAT
COMMUNITY.

The caption changes to “Wang Chunchen. Head of Department, Curational Research. China Central Academy of Fine Arts.”

Wang is in his late forties, clean-shaven with black hair. He wears a black shirt and glasses.

In a museum, Wang says CAO FEI IS SO INTERNATIONALLY
RECOGNIZED, WHY HER WORK IS
BECOME SO POPULAR OR INFLUENTIAL
IS BECAUSE SHE REFLECTS SUCH
CHANGES, NEW LIFE.

The Narrator says BUT WHILE CAO FEI’S
WORKS COMMONLY REFLECT CHINA’S
EVER-CHANGING SOCIETY, THEY ARE
MORE WELL-KNOWN OUTSIDE THE
COUNTRY.
AND DESPITE HER NUMEROUS SOLO
EXHIBITIONS AROUND THE WORLD,
SHE HAS NEVER HAD ONE IN HER
HOMETOWN.

Cao says WHEN I STARTED
MY ART CAREER, MY WORKS
WERE ALREADY IN THE WEST.
SO THE WEST ACCEPTED MY
ART WORK EARLIER.
THE CHINESE ART SYSTEM IS MOSTLY
CONTROLLED BY MEN.
IT’S DIFFICULT FOR FEMALE
ARTISTS SOMETIMES.
THE GLOBAL ART SCENE SEEMS
MORE OPEN AND WELCOMING.

The Narrator says IN AN ATTEMPT TO BE MORE
INVOLVED WITH CHINA’S
CONTEMPORARY ART SCENE, CAO FEI
MOVED TO BEIJING WITH HER
SINGAPOREAN ARTIST HUSBAND IN
2007.
HER SHIFT TO CHINA’S CAPITAL
SEEMED TO HAVE ALSO SHIFTED HER
ATTENTION TO WIDER POLITICS AND
SOCIETY.
AND TO NEWER WAYS OF MAKING
ART.
ONE OF HER MORE ICONIC PIECES
FROM THIS TIME IS
RMB CITY,
IN WHICH SHE ADOPTED NEW
TECHNOLOGIES TO BUILD AN ISLAND
METROPOLIS IN HER ONLINE WORLD
OF
SECOND LIFE.
IT IS HERE WHERE SHE DOCUMENTS
VIRTUAL LIVES THE SAME WAY SHE
DOES IN THE REAL WORLD.

A 3D clip shows a fire burning in a postmodern city sitting on a body of water.

Cao says WHEN I ADVENTURED
THROUGH SECOND LIFE,
I SAW MANY DIFFERENT CITIES
IN THE VIRTUAL WORLD.
AND I SAW THE FORBIDDEN CITY
IN BEIJING,
AND THAT IS OLD CHINA.
WHY DO THEY NOT HAVE NEW CHINA?
SO IN 2007, I STARTED ON
THE RMB CITY PROJECT.

Philips says IF YOU LOOK AT
SOMETHING LIKE
RMB CITY,
IT’S A
PASTICHE, IT’S A COMBINATION OF
ALL THESE DIFFERENT IMAGES AND
ICONIC GRAPHIC REFERENCES TO
A COMPLEX CHINA, TO A GLOBAL
CHINA, WITH THE PURPOSE OF
TALKING ABOUT THE WAYS THAT WE
CONSTRUCT WORLDS WE MIGHT WANT
TO LIVE IN.
I THINK THAT SHE IS DEEPLY
INTERESTED IN THE IDEA OF UTOPIA
AND ITS COUNTERPOINT, WHICH IS
DYSTOPIA.
THIS COMES FROM THE IDEA OF
BEING A CITIZEN OF THE PEOPLE’S
REPUBLIC OF CHINA, WHICH, IN A
WAY, IS A VERY UTOPIAN STATE
CONSTRUCT, OR WAS WHEN IT WAS
FOUNDED IN 1949.

The Narrator says WITH
RMB CITY,
CAO FEI
CONTINUED TO BLUR THE
BOUNDARIES BETWEEN FANTASY AND
REALITY, ONLY THIS TIME, SHE
EMBODIES THIS THROUGH HER ALTER
EGO, AN AVATAR NAMED CHINA
TRACY.

Jocelyn says CHINA TRACY IS REALLY, I
THINK, AN INCREDIBLY STRONG,
VIBRANT CONTEMPORARY WOMAN,
JUST LIKE CAO FEI HERSELF.
BUT SHE HAS A RANGE OF CRAZY
OUTFITS THAT MAKE HER LOOK LIKE
SORT OF A CYBER ASTRONAUT, OR
AN AMAZON WOMAN.
SHE’S VERY POWERFUL, SHE’S VERY
STRONG.

The avatar China Tracy wearing a green suit runs along a tunnel.

Cao says I THINK THAT CAO FEI
AND CHINA TRACY HAVE MANY
QUESTIONS TO THE
WORLD.
CHINA TRACY IS SO CURIOUS
ABOUT THE VIRTUAL WORLD
AND CAO FEI ALSO HAS
SO MANY QUESTIONS ABOUT
THE REAL WORLD.

The Narrator says AND IT IS THIS CURIOSITY THAT
PUSHES CAO FEI TO EXPERIMENT
WITH A VARIETY OF MEDIUMS,
MAKING HER ONE OF CHINA’S MOST
INNOVATIVE YOUNG ARTISTS.

The caption changes to “Meg Maggio. Founder. Pekin Fine Arts, Beijing.”

Meg says ONE OF THE THINGS THAT MAKES
HER A GREAT ARTIST IS HER
AMBITIOUS GRASP OF NEW
TECHNOLOGY.
SHE’S ALWAYS TRYING TO UPGRADE
HER TECHNOLOGY, AND THE MEDIUM
THAT SHE USES.

Jocelyn says BUT I WOULD SAY,
PARTICULARLY IN AN ERA WHEN
A LOT OF ARTISTS ARE TRYING TO
UNDERSTAND HOW TO MAKE WORK
THAT INTEGRATES NEW
TECHNOLOGICAL TOOLS, NEW VIRTUAL
SPACES, I THINK IT’S REALLY OF
NOTE THAT SHE’S A WOMAN WHO IS
PIONEERING IN THESE SPACES.

A 3D clip shows a man and a woman sitting at a table in a tall building overlooking a modern city.

The caption changes to “i. Mirror, 2007.”

The Narrator says DURING THIS TIME, CAO FEI WAS
GOING THROUGH AN EXCITING PHASE
PERSONALLY, AND ADAPTING TO HER
NEW LIFE IN BEIJING WAS PROVING
CHALLENGING.
SO SHE DECIDED TO HIT THE PAUSE
BUTTON ON HER CAREER.

Cao says 2010 TO 2013, I TOOK
A THREE-YEAR BREAK,
BECAUSE I HAD TWO KIDS
WHO WERE BORN DURING THOSE YEARS.

Philip says CAO FEI IS A TOTAL
WORKAHOLIC.
I MEAN, SHE IS PRETTY MUCH
ALWAYS IN THE MIDST OF PROJECT,
BUT ACTUALLY THESE DAYS WHEN SHE
IS NOT AN ARTIST, SHE’S A
MOTHER.
I THINK THAT ESPECIALLY FOR
SOMEONE WHO’D BEEN SO CENTRED
ON HER CAREER AND HER OUTPUT FOR
SO MANY YEARS, YOU KNOW, TO
TOTALLY PULL AWAY FOR FOUR OR
FIVE YEARS WAS A REAL LEAP OF
FAITH ON HER BEHALF.

Cao says I THINK AS ASTISTS,
WE REALLY NEED A BREAK.
SO I SPENT MORE TIME
WITH MY FAMILY.
BUT I STILL KEPT MY OBSERVATIONS,
MY PREPARATIONS AND MY RESEARCH.
FOR ME IT’S LIKE
OPENING A NEW PAGE.
WHEN I HANG OUT WITH MY KIDS,
I FEEL I’M MORE SENSITIVE
TO LIFE’S TEXTURES.
SO THAT FEELING TO ME
IS VERY IMPORTANT.

A series of picture of Cao’s children run by.

The Narrator says IN 2013, AFTER A THREE-YEAR
HIATUS, CAO FEI RETURNED TO
THE SCENE AND SHOCKED WITH
HAZE AND FOG.

A pregnant woman lies on a chair screaming as a man plays golf near her in a living room.

The Narrator continues HAZE AND FOG
IS A VIDEO
REFLECTING HER DARKER
EXPLORATION OF CONTEMPORARY
LIFE IN BEIJING.
IT IS HER TAKE ON A ZOMBIE FILM
GENRE BUT ONE THAT IS MORE
SATIRICAL, REVEALING THE
CONSEQUENCES OF A POST-
CAPITALIST WORLD.

Alexandra says IT’S BASICALLY PRESENTING
WORKERS, ALSO LABOURERS, IN A
COMPOUND IN THE POLLUTION, IN
THE HAZE AND FOG OF BEIJING,
LITERALLY AS ZOMBIES.
THEY ARE MOVING IN AND OUT OF
TRULY ZOMBIE-ISH AND QUASI
SUICIDAL AND MURDEROUS
FANTASIES.

The Narrator says WHILE HER EARLIER WORKS DEALT
WITH THE SOCIAL POSSIBILITIES
OF A GLOBALIZED SOCIETY,
HAZE
AND FOG
DISPLAYS UNUSUAL
PESSIMISM.
BUT A CLOSER LOOK REVEALS HOW
CAO FEI ALSO USES HER OWN
EXPERIENCES AND ACTUALLY
REFLECTS MUCH OF HERSELF IN HER
WORKS.

Jocelyn says I THINK WHAT PEOPLE DON’T
REALIZE IS HOW MUCH OF CAO FEI
IS IN THE WORK.
THIS MAGICAL REALIST, ALMOST
ZOMBIE FILM THAT TAKES PLACE IN
THIS HOUSING COMPOUND THAT’S
ACTUALLY WHERE CAO FEI, THE
ARTIST LIVES, AND THAT’S A
PLACE-- YOU KNOW, IT’S SHOT IN
HER KITCHEN, IN THE HALLWAYS OF
HER BUILDING, IN THE DENTIST’S
OFFICE DOWNSTAIRS.

Alexandra says SHE IS VERY OPEN ABOUT HOW
HER LIFE CHANGES HAVE INFLUENCED
HER WORK, AND HOW HER WORK AND
HER IDEAS FOR WORK ARE
RESPONDING TO WHERE SHE IS
HERSELF IN HER LIFE.
BUT THERE ARE CHANGES IN CHINA
NOW-- THE CHINA THAT CAO FEI
GREW UP IN, EVEN THE CHINA OF
THE OLYMPICS, THE CHINA OF
WHOSE UTOPIA,
IS VERY DIFFERENT
FROM CHINA TODAY, AND THERE IS
A DIFFERENT KIND OF EERINESS,
THERE IS A SENSE OF FORECLOSURE
IN EVERYDAY LIFE THAT I THINK
CAO FEI IS TAPPING INTO.

The caption changes to “LA Town, 2014.”

A clip shows a model of a ruined and dark city.

Wang says IF WE COMPARE THE WORKS
SHE MAKES IN BEIJING TO THE
WORKS SHE MADE IN GUANGDONG...
IN GUANGDONG MAYBE THAT IS HER
EARLIER AGE, YOU CAN FEEL FRESH,
NOT SO COMPLICATED, BUT NOW
HER WORKS BECOME MORE AND MORE
MATURE, COMPLICATED, EVEN MUCH
MORE CONCEPTUAL.

The Narrator says AFTER THE BREAK, CAO FEI
TAKES US ON A RESEARCH TRIP FOR
HER LATEST WORK AND INVITES US
INTO HER REALM OF SOCIAL MEDIA.
FOR THE PAST 20 YEARS, CAO
FEI’S SUCCESS HAS BEEN
CELEBRATED GLOBALLY WITH HER
WORKS EXHIBITED IN SHOWS AND
BIENNIALS AROUND THE WORLD.
CURRENTLY, CAO FEI IS DOING
SOME RESEARCH ON DEMOLITION
PROJECTS ACROSS BEIJING.
SHE IS CONSTANTLY FASCINATED
BY THESE RAPID URBAN
DEVELOPMENTS, RETURNING TO THEM
AGAIN IN HER MORE RECENT WORKS.
IN 2015, SHE MADE
RUMBA TWO:
NOMAD,
A VIDEO IN WHICH SHE
RELEASED SEVERAL VACUUM
CLEANING ROBOTS AT HER OLD
STUDIO THAT HAD BEEN TORN DOWN.

Philips says SHE HAS A VERY
BEMUSE SENSE OF HUMOUR, SHE IS
QUITE GOOD AT SPOTTING THE
GRANDIOSITY AROUND HER BUT ALSO
SORT OF, THE RIDICULOUSNESS
OF HER SURROUNDINGS, SO I THINK
IN CERTAIN PIECES SHE IS ABLE TO
GET AT THOSE THINGS AT THE SAME
TIME.

Alexandra says I THINK HER WORK
HAS BECOME MORE POLITICAL-- IT
IS STILL VERY ALLEGORICAL BUT
IT’S AT A STAGE WHERE IT’S MORE
CRITICAL, I THINK, OF WHAT IT IS
TO BE CAUGHT IN THE WEB OF
NEO-LIBERALIST, CAPITALIST,
LABOUR-ORIENTED, MATERIALIST
CONSUMERIST CULTURE, IN THIS
FAST-PACED URBANISATION THAT IS
CHINA TODAY.

The Narrator says TODAY SHE IS TAKING US TO ONE
OF BEIJING’S TRADITIONAL
FARMER’S MARKETS THAT WILL SOON
BE DEMOLISHED.

Travelling in a car, Cao says I AM VERY INTERESTED
IN THE NEW CITY PLANNING PROGRAMME
IN THIS AREA,
AND I WANT OT FIGURE OUT
HOW IT CAN BE A PART OF MY PROJECT.

Alexandra says CAO FEI’S WORK IS A
REMARKABLY GRITTY REPRESENTATION
OF LIVING IN CHINESE CITIES,
PASSING THROUGH CHINESE CITIES,
WATCHING ENTIRE NEIGHBOURHOODS
BE RAZED TO THE GROUND AND
RUBBLE, AND GET REINVENTED AS
MALLS IN A SPACE OF MONTHS.
THERE IS A SENSE OF DOCUMENTARY
IN CAO FEI’S WORK THAT IS
EXTREMELY VALUABLE AND EXTREMELY
RELEVANT, AND MEANINGFUL.

Cao says AT THIS MARKET,
MY FOCUS IS ON URBANISATION
AND CHANGES.
SOME OF MY FUTURE PROJECTS
WILL DOCUMENT THIS WHOLE REGION,
AND HOW IT HAS CHANGED.
SO IT’S KIND OF A
DAILY RESEARCH.

Cao walks around warehouses taking pictures with her cell phone.

In off, a female director asks SO WHAT’S YOUR RESEARCH
PROCESS LIKE?

Cao answers I COME TO TAKE PICTURES
BEFORE IT GETS DEMOLISHED,
AND WE FOLLOW IT AS IT DISAPPEARS.
SO WE DOCUMENT THE WHOLE PROCESS.

The Narrator says AND ONCE THESE PICTURES HAVE
BEEN TAKEN, CAO FEI WILL SHARE
THEM ON HER INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT...
A NEW VIRTUAL PHENOMENON THAT
ARTISTS LIKE HER USE TO ENGAGE
WITH THE REST OF THE WORLD.

Cao says INSTAGRAM IS LIKE
AN INDIVIDUAL AND
PERSONAL MAGAZINE.
SO IF YOU FIND AN ARTIST,
YOU CAN SEE WHAT INSPIRES THEM
IN THEIR DAILY LIFE.
PEOPLE CAN SEE
WHERE I’M TRAVELLING,
WHAT PROJECTS I’M WORKING ON.
SO I THINK IT’S REALLY
INTERESTING AS ARTISTS,
TO BE INVOLVED
WITH THIS MEDIA.

A clip shows her Instagram posts.

The Narrator says CAO FEI IS NOT NEW TO THE
WORLD OF SOCIAL MEDIA.
SHE STARTED BLOGGING DURING A
PERIOD WHEN MANY IN CHINA WERE
NOT EVEN AWARE BLOGS EXISTED.

Philip says SHE’S ONE OF THESE PEOPLE WHO
WAS JUST KIND OF, PERFECTLY
SUITED TO THIS ERA.
SHE’S ALSO EXTREMELY GIFTED
AT SELF-PROMOTION, YOU KNOW,
USING THESE DIFFERENT NETWORKS,
SO WE ALWAYS KNOW WHERE SHE IS,
WHO SHE’S WITH... YOU KNOW,
WHAT’S GOING ON.
AND THAT’S HER ONLINE PERSONA,
IN THE WAY THAT THE CHINA TRACY
HAS HERS.

Meg says CAO FEI HAS BEEN VERY CLEVER
IN THE WAY SHE HAS REACHED OUT
TO HER AUDIENCE USING SOCIAL
MEDIA.
IT HAS ALLOWED HER TO INTERACT,
AND EXPERIMENT WITH THE IDEA OF
PERFORMANCE, AND EXPERIMENT WITH
THE IDEA OF DOCUMENTARY VERSUS
FANTASY IN HER WORK.

Alexandra says HER WORK, I FEEL,
IS EXTREMELY RELEVANT TO OUR
TIMES, THAT ARE AT ONCE
REPRESENTATIVE OF CHINA, BUT IN
AS MUCH AS CHINA’S REALITY IS
NOT LIMITED TO CHINA, BUT IS
ALSO AN EXAMPLE OF THE KIND OF
CHANGES THAT ARE GOING AROUND
THE WORLD.
I THINK IT’S A WORK THAT TAPS
INTO SOMETHING VERY PROFOUND,
AND VERY CONTEMPORARY.

Jocelyn says SHE ALWAYS REMINDS
YOU THAT POPULATING ALL OF HER
WORLDS, WHETHER THEY’RE
INVENTED, WHETHER THEY’RE REAL
ONES THAT SHE’S DOCUMENTING,
ARE INDIVIDUALS THAT EACH HAVE
THEIR OWN VERY RICH INTERIOR
LIVES, AND I THINK THAT’S
SOMETHING THAT IS UNDERSCORED IN
EVERY SINGLE WORK SHE MAKES.

Cao says I THINK ART IS REALLY
A SMALL PART OF THIS WORLD.
I DON’T THINK IT CAN
CHANGE THE WORLD.
ART DOESN’T HAVE
SUCH BIG POWERS.
BUT I THINK IT’S AN
EXPERIENCE THAT
CAN AFFECT SOMEBODY.

The end credits roll.

Narrated by Verity Sharp.

Produced and Directed by Sarah Bagharib.

Executive Producer, Sian Kevill.

Copyright 2016, Bloomberg LP.

Watch: The Tenacious Alchemy of China's Cao Fei