World Chambers

A Forum for the Arts of Contemporary Chinese Women

Cao Fei & Business As Usual

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Cao Fei has been quickly rising within the art world, especially for her video work (the stills of which I think look expertly directed). Significant voices in the field have paired her with a more seasoned, male, video artist, Yang Fudong both in exhibition and critic. They are the only mainland-based artists included in the show Louis Vuitton: A Passion for Creation open at the Hong Kong Art Museum until August 9th; in 2008 Director of the Asia Society Museum and Vice President of Global Art Programs, Melissa Chiu named Cao and Yang as the two artists that represent the current developments in, and future of, Chinese art; and they compose a two person show focused on Chinese video art: Business As Usual that was curated by the Arizona State University Art Museum and will travel to the Henry Art Gallery this summer.

One of the curators of this show, Heather S. Lineberry Senior Curator and Interim Director of ASU kindly spoke with me about the process behind the choices of herself and her co-curator, Marilyn Zeitlin:

BAU was co-curated by myself and Marilyn Zeitlin, retired director of the ASU Art Museum.  As most contemporary curators, we both followed the rise of the contemporary art world and market in China and its representation on the international scene.  We hosted the Regeneration exhibition, organized by the Samek Art Gallery at Bucknell University, a few years ago which was a broad survey of recent generations of contemporary art in China and included a broad range of media.  After this survey, we were interested in a more focused exhibition on video work, as presenting video and new media is a primary initiative for our museum.  Drawn both to individual pieces and to their bodies of work, I selected Yang Fudong and Marilyn selected Cao Fei.  We were interested in the complex comparisons created by this two person exhibition, between the artists and their careers and between the content and style of their work.  Yang Fudong has become a standard bearer for video art in China with international exhibitions, publications and collections.  Cao Fei is much younger, a woman, and when Marilyn selected her for the exhibition, she was an emerging artist in China and internationally.  The content and style of their videos/films only emphasizes this contrast in generation and career stage.  Yang Fudong’s work is more cinematic and narrative, quoting broadly from Chinese political and cultural history.  Cao Fei works seem to reference reality shows with participants who are not actors and less scripted.  She focuses on current realities in China, popular culture and youth.  We found these contrasts to be a powerful bracketing for the breadth of contemporary art by Chinese artists.

Needless to say, I can’t wait to see this show when it comes to Seattle. Cao Fei may be the poster child, not only for success as a young Chinese artist, but also for success as a female artist. She does not identify her work as “women’s art” (nuxing yishu) and does not seem constrained by the cultural restraints of previous generations of women.

In her mention, of Cao and Yang, Melissa Chiu pointed to Cao’s  early project  from 2002, Rabid Dogs which featured Burberry-clad canine characters making their way though office settings in order to showcase the determination for social climbing amongst Cao’s peers; and also Cao’s newest work seen at the 52nd Venice Biennale 2007. This piece utilizes second life to build a pavilion in which Cao shows a video installation. The topic of this real art inside of an unreal world is the “rather melancholy, a little about the sex, ..money, .. gambling, the forever young and beautiful avatars, but mostly [is] about loneliness, longing, and meeting someone from the other side of the planet with similar thoughts and feelings!” (Posthorn, P., 2007, June 17, para. 2). In 2004, she used video and still images to portraiture Guangzhou youth engaged in imaginary battles while dressed in Japanese anime costumes. Some shots even followed the characters home to their parents who, as one could imagine, did not appreciate the manifest obsession with pop culture.

8mins/DV/2000, Director/Photographer: Cao Fei, Actors: Wu Ying, Zhang Xiaochuan, Zhang Xinqi, Lin Yusi, Ou Guorui, Song Jiaqi, Zhong Liang, Lighting/Still photographer: Lu Yigang, Makeup/Costume: Zhang Xiaochuan, Cao Fei, Costume maker: Mr.Zhou, Editing: Cao Fei, Music Editing: Cao Fei (http://www.caofei.com/works/video/).

8mins/DV/2000, Director/Photographer: Cao Fei, Actors: Wu Ying, Zhang Xiaochuan, Zhang Xinqi, Lin Yusi, Ou Guorui, Song Jiaqi, Zhong Liang, Lighting/Still photographer: Lu Yigang, Makeup/Costume: Zhang Xiaochuan, Cao Fei, Costume maker: Mr.Zhou, Editing: Cao Fei, Music Editing: Cao Fei (http://www.caofei.com/works/video/).

Cao Fei, China Tracy, 2007, Internet and installation project (Grosenick & Schübbe, 2007, 53).

Cao Fei, China Tracy, 2007, Internet and installation project (Grosenick & Schübbe, 2007, 53).

Her 2006 piece, My Future is not a Dream (aka SIEMENS Art Project 2006: What Are You Doing Here? won Cao the China Contemporary Art Awards young artist category in 2006, and is my favorite of her work. The video captures workers of a light bulb factory in Guangdong, whom Cao invited to perform / dance to their choice of music. In this act, Cao, who is from Guangdong, showcased the juxtaposition between the creative dreams and material realities of many workers. Cao is admirably pushing boundaries between audience and subject, but what is most significant for her work as a female artist is that the subject at hand does not descend from traditional definitions of female, and far surpasses social ideals of the female sphere. Because Cao and other similarly aged / minded women have ideologically broken out of the restraints of the inner chambers, they can case their social inquiries and critiques onto society as a whole. Furthermore, the artists of this generation are not confined to the “women’s art” genre in terms of curatorial and critical choices. The only specialty exhibits included in Cao’s resume relate to her chosen mediums, and not her given gender. It is work of this scope that has elevated female artists to previously unheard of positions, and they will likely continue to rise as the bursting bubble of China’s art market refines the quality of the field.

Cao Fei, My Future is not a Dream, 2006, Video (Grosenick & Schubbe, 2007, China Art Book, 52).

Cao Fei, My Future is not a Dream, 2006, Video (Grosenick & Schubbe, 2007, China Art Book, 52).

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Written by Andrea Descoteaux Hugg

June 8, 2009 at 6:58 PM

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