Cao Fei : Into the Metaverse. Article by Rebecca Lamona

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The Chinese artist occupies and transforms all the main spaces of the Berlin gallery Sprüth Magers. Proudly presenting a Duotopia and world premiere of several new artworks.

Cao Fei
MatryoshkaVerse 2022 Double Channel HD video, 16:4.5, color with sound, 37min 38sec © 2023. Courtesy the artist, Vitamin Creative Space, and Sprüth Magers

Guangzhou-based Chinese artist Cao Fei (1978) has three participations in the Venice Art Biennale to his credit. Besides also many exhibitions, in as many important museums around the world (the last one, ‘Supernova’, in 2022, at the MaXXI in Rome).

For more than two decades, she has been pursuing a reflection on media, technology, and the future through different means of expression.

Her works, mostly video performances and digital works, explore aspects of everyday existence mixed with the surreal and the spectacular, far-reaching social changes in an era of globalization, urbanization, and digitalization, and contemporary Chinese life to question what it means to be ‘human’ in an ever-changing era.

The title of the exhibition, Duotopia (2022) presents Cao Fei’s first architectural creation in the metaverse, installed between large hanging banners advertising the name of the exhibition itself. On a horizontal screen, the video is experienced immersively by lying on the floor and looking up to observe from below the ring-shaped construction of the Duotopia floating and rotating in a radiant sky. The ‘duo’ of Duotopia refers to the Mandarin word ‘duō 多’, meaning ‘many’, or overlapping many possible futures, environments, and aesthetics.

The exhibition is accompanied by a group of new videos that look at the connective and creative possibilities of the metaverse. Viewers first encounter Meta-mentary (2022), in which ordinary people are interviewed about their thoughts on the metaverse and the distant future. Adjacent showcases and screens recall the artist’s first virtual reality construction, RMB City (2007-11), which housed her first avatar, China Tracy. Together, these projects illustrate Cao Fei’s long exploration of the increasingly porous boundaries between the physical and virtual worlds.

In the upstairs gallery, Cao Fei presents two videos that explore the concepts of time, space, and the fiction of history and geopolitics. In the nonlinear narrative of Nova (2019), and MatryoshkaVerse(2022).

A contrast to the metaverse is provided by three current projects by Cao Fei, which refer to the experiences of her family and friends during the COVID-19 pandemic and are spatially separated by an elaborate staging of false walls, props, photographs, and memorabilia. Each transports the viewer into a more banal reality, but always with the elements of surrealism and theatricality typical of the artist. Isle of Instability (2020), documents a time of quarantine in Singapore during the early months of the pandemic. Among a series of necessities, including disinfectants and government documents, a video shows an ‘island’ that the artist erected in her living room to distract and entertain her daughter, along with scenes of deserted highways and city streets. A Holiday (2023) – an installation that includes a picnic in a campground, fake greenery, fences, a video shot in Beijing in 2022, and other objects – refers to the desperate need for nature that many people crave in reaction to the confines and stresses of long-term remote living. Still Alive (2023), Cao Fei’s most recent video, presents a heartbreaking tribute to her mother amid grief and the loss of her husband, the artist’s stepfather, due to complications from COVID-19.

Cao captured her country’s rapid social and cultural transformation, emphasizing the impact of foreign influences and shedding light on how people react to these developments and integrate them into their lives.

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