Issue 57

Cao Fei

The cover image for this issue of Artkrush is Cao Fei's UN-Cosplayers, a 2006 photograph of Beijing residents wearing role-playing costumes. The project revisits the theme of her 2004 COSplayers film, which captured Chinese youth acting out anime fantasies. A video artist, theater director, and photographer, Cao Fei is also distinguishing herself as a writer and blogger.

Born in Guangzhou, China in 1978, Cao Fei attended the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts and graduated in 2001. Though only 29 years old, she has exhibited at numerous international exhibitions, including the Singapore, Sydney, and Moscow biennials, and at major museums, including the Centre Pompidou in Paris and New York's Museum of Modern Art. Represented by New York's Lombard-Freid Projects and Beijing's Pékin Fine Arts, her work is currently on view in the group exhibition The Real Thing: Contemporary Art from China at the Tate Liverpool through June 10.

Even before graduating from art school, Cao Fei began climbing the ranks of Chinese artists. Filming 1999's Imbalance 257 with little training, she struck critics with her awkward, innately effective style that emphasized a documentary-like approach. In the work, Cao Fei captured the lives of fellow students at her art school, and she has often revisited the topic of China's post-communist generation.

In cosplay — slang for "costume play" — people emulate the appearances of fictional characters. Cao Fei's extensive series began by following Guangzhou youths, dressed like their favorite Japanese manga heroes, romping through their hometown. Gilded and winged outfits hearken to the future and far-away cultures, but gray cement overpasses and towering skyscrapers prevent any escape from the struggling city. In her more recent series, Cao Fei casts older Beijing residents in the same absurd roles and inserts them into typical street scenes.

Complementing these imaginative tableaux, Cao Fei chronicles the artistic creations of her peers in her Alternative Archive blog and further explores virtual reality in her Second Life blog via the avatar China Tracy. With her characteristic insight and wry wit, Cao Fei captures a generation caught between fantastic optimism and reality. (LM)

Cao Fei
UN-Cosplayers, 2006
30 x 40 in. / 76 x 102 cm
Courtesy Cao Fei's Blog
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