Curated by Siya Chen and Heather Keung
In the Chinese virtual utopia RMB City, you can dine on roast duck at a night market, indulge in a luxurious foot massage with Karl Marx, apply for a job with the Monkey King, take choreographed tai chi dance lessons, meditate on a flying carpet … all the while discussing universal theory as it applies to life, both real and virtual. RMB City was developed, via the freeware Second Life, by Guangzhou artist Cao Fei (SL: China Tracy) as a conceptual space and experimental platform for her and her collaborators to embark on explorations in art, design, architecture, literature, cinema, politics, economy, society and beyond. A microcosm that reflects on contemporary China, it is home to multifaceted conceptual artworks by international artists.
The artist has directed two videos based on her creative collaborations: People’s Limbo in RMB City (2009, 18 minutes); and Live in RMB City (2009, 25 minutes). In People’s Limbo in RMB City, avatars of Karl Marx and Mao Zedong, as well as Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, and a Lehman Brothers banker debate on the current global economic crisis, politics and concepts of “freedom”. Together they play the people’s monopoly board, jump in the money ball pit and blow up run-down apartment buildings.
In Live in RMB City, the camera faithfully chronicles China Sun — the newly born baby of China Tracy, from its very first breath of air to every single activity and exploration of the child. Inspired by each new creation of her collaborative team of artists, writers, architects and philosophers, China Tracy explains to her baby in Japanese that the restrictions on established properties in the real world no longer apply, and that in Second Life, nothing is as it appears to be. Mother and baby then visit RMB City’s first “pleasure area,” a sexual massage centre in the outskirts of the city. Curious about the differences between Second Life and real life, China Sun also begins to ponder the question, “Who am I?”.
China Tracy’s first video, i.Mirror (2007, 28 minutes), is an odd melodramatic rock ‘n’ roll journey of self-discovery, love and loss. As she flies through cleared land for sale, garbage dumps with burning cars, polluting factories and smoky clubs, the artist finds both desolation and hope. Calling on an eclectic group of sordid drug users, punks, goths, activists, tough guys with tattoos and sexy foxes, she celebrates the universal desire to live an extraordinary life that is eternally youthful and free.
– Heather Keung
Cao Fei, who was born in Guangzhou in 1978, currently lives and works in Beijing. Acclaimed for her multimedia installations and videos, she is acknowledged as one of the key young artists emerging from mainland China. By weaving social commentary, popular aesthetics, Surrealism and documentary conventions into her films and installations, she offers her perspective on the rapid and chaotic changes in all facets of Chinese society. Her work has been exhibited in art venues around the world, including the Guggenheim Museum in New York, Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin and the Venice Biennale.