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Cao Fei in "Fantasy"

“Dear ladies and gentleman, I’m China Tracy—the avatar of Cao Fei—and I’m her interpreter.” Cao Fei’s digital “Second Life” alter ego acts as the English translator for the Chinese-speaking artist throughout the segment, guiding the viewer through seven multimedia projects.

A day-in-the-life is captured in the sensitive Milkman, corporate culture is critiqued in the surrealistic Rabid Dogs, while the assimilation of American pop culture by Asians is celebrated in Cao’s series of Hip Hop videos. Through a blend of documentary and magical realism, the artist investigates various aspects of role play: costumed youth and their families, workers’ dreams come to life at a Siemens light factory, and the simulated romance between avatars. The segment culminates in the artist’s ongoing project, RMB City, an artificial island built in the 3D virtual world of “Second Life” that resembles a postmodern collage of landmarks, urban over-development, and Chinese landscape painting.

More information and credits


Created by: Susan Sollins & Susan Dowling. Executive Producer & Curator: Susan Sollins. Series Producer: Eve-Laure Moros Ortega. Associate Producer: Migs Wright. Associate Curator: Wesley Miller. Production Manager: Nick Ravich. Production Coordinator: Larissa Nikola-Lisa. Consulting Director: Catherine Tatge. Editor: Mark Sutton. Director of Photography: Takahisa Araki, Martial Barrault, Kurt Branstetter, Robert Elfstrom, Mark Falstad, Miguel Sanchez-Martin, Ian Serfontein, & Joel Shapiro. Additional Photography: Frank Dellario, Brian Hwang, & Clair Popkin. Sound: Tom Bergin, Ray Day, Steve “Major” Giammaria, Heidi Hesse, Mark Mandler, Roger Phenix, & Paul Stadden. Assistant Camera: Agnès Jammal, Jin Long Nan, Clair Popkin, Nick Skolnick, Adriano Vasquez, & Jean-Pierre Vial. Grip: Scott Barhends & Bill Frye. Field Producer: David Howe. Cao Fei Interview & Translation: Phil Tinari & Xiaotong Wang.

Creative Consultant: Ed Sherin. Art Direction & Design: Open, New York. Graphics Animation: Maurice Caicedo & Urosh Perishic. On-Line Editor: Don Wyllie. Composer: Peter Foley. Voice-Over Artist: Jace Alexander. Sound Editing: Margaret Crimmins & Greg Smith. Sound Mix: Cory Melious. Artwork Animation: Frank Ferrigno. Assistant Editor: Ahmed Amer, Janine Cappadona, Paulo Padilha, Joaquin Perez, Leana Siochi, & Ken Yapelli.

Artworks Courtesy of: Cao Fei; Mary Heilmann; Jeff Koons; Florian Maier-Aichen; 303 Gallery, New York; Blum & Poe, Los Angeles; Lombard-Freid Projects, New York; Pace Prints, New York; & RMB City 2009.

Special Thanks: The Art21 Board of Trustees; Michael Ashburn; Sarah Barasch; Travis Call; Pat Carney; Pat Casteel and Steve Wylie; Chåteau de Versailles Spectacles; Xixi Chen; Ralph Cuccurullo; Samantha Culp; Jill Davis; Dog Bark Sound; Tom Donnelly; Jessica Eisenthal; L’Etablissement Public du musée et du domaine national de Versailles; Frame:Runner, NYC; Alexandra Gaty; Simon Greenberg; Elizabeth Hull; Jeff Koons Studio, New York; Lu Jia; Tomoko Kimata; Sarah Kohn; Venus Lau; Mengxian Li; Karla Loring; Amy Lukas; Sheila Lynch; Carlin Mayer; Mariko Munro; Renée Martin; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Erik Pepple; Heather Rasmussen; Andre Ribuoli; RMB City Studio, Beijing; Lauran Rothstein; Nancy Schindele; Susan Schneider; Kathrin Schweizer; Serpentine Gallery, London; Keith Shapiro; Karen Simonian; Sound Lounge; John Steele; Kelsey Sundberg; Liane Thatcher; Fleur Treglown; Vitamin Creative Space, Beijing; Tony Volante; Amy Wenzel; & Wexner Center for the Arts.

Additional Art21 Staff: Beth Allen, Mary Cook, Joe Fusaro, Jessica Hamlin, Jennifer H. Lee, Marc Mayer, Jonathan Munar, Katherine Payne, Kelly Shindler, & Sara Simonson.

Interns: Maggie Bordonaro, Krystle DeMauro, Natalia P. Good, Sophie Grant, Pinchang Huang, Joy Lai, Rachele Lam, Jamie Leonardi, Melanie K. Mambo, Pauli Ochi, Sara Odam, David Roesing, Nicole Ross, Nicole Sansone, & Julia Wright.

Public Relations: Goodman Media International. Station Relations: De Shields Associates, Inc. Legal Counsel: Albert Gottesman. Bookkeeper: Valerie Riley. Travel Agent: Lita Gottesman.

Major underwriting for Art in the Twenty-First Century Season Five provided by: National Endowment for the Arts; Public Broadcasting Service; Agnes Gund; Bloomberg; The Nathan Cummings Foundation; The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; The Broad Art Foundation; Korea Foundation; & The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation.

Closed captionsAvailable in English, German, Romanian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian

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Cao Fei

Cao Fei’s work reflects the fluidity of a world in which cultures have mixed and diverged in rapid evolution. Her video installations and new media works explore perception and reality in places as diverse as a Chinese factory and the virtual world of “Second Life.” Applying strategies of sampling, role play, and documentary filmmaking to capture individuals’ longings and the ways in which they imagine themselves—as hip-hop musicians, costumed characters, or digitized alter egos—Cao Fei reveals the discrepancy between reality and dream, and the discontent and disillusionment of China’s younger generation.

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Cao Fei

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Coming Up Hip-Hop and Questioning Utopia

In this interview Cao Fei discusses cultural hybridity and her Hip Hop series, and the factory workers featured in her multi-part project Whose Utopia.