Cao Fei, China Tracey, RMB City, 2009
From Cao Fei's entre to the art world in the late 1990s she was pitched as 'new generation'—a representative of the much needed next wave of artists to carry on from the theoretical dilemmas (and hype) generated around the contemporary Chinese artists who had preceded her. Drawing on the languages of pop and youth cultures, she signified a new voice on Chinese society, one that was savvy with globalisation and could comment on Chinese consumerism with the tools of the system itself.
More than 10 years on, Cao Fei is astoundingly accomplished, having spent the greater part of her 20s engaged in elaborate experiments with multimedia, collaborative performance pieces and deep explorations into the world of virtual reality. While primarily a video artist, Cao Fei’s interest in theatre has extended her work to the stage, often toying with the distinction between the digital and the real. Films inspired by the cultures of hip hop, pornography and gaming have given verve to her artistic vocabulary; meanwhile her cool eye is manifest in a number of shrewd documentaries. Cao’s works have been included in biennales around the world and dozens of catalogues and compendiums include essays under her name.
Is Cao Fei still next generation then? When asked, she raises her eyebrows sarcastically and, with characteristic minimalism, points to the eight-months pregnant belly before her (she also has a two-year-old son). “You’d still call me a young artist?” Whatever the relevance of such categories, however, Cao’s work maintains the same exuberance that first attracted the label of youth—the vivid colours of popular media and a preoccupation with fantasy.