Cao Fei: Shadow Plays, on view at The Mistake Room through November 21, is inspired by the rapidly changing social and economic conditions of contemporary urban life. Curator Kris Kuramitsu spoke to the LA Forum about the artist’s utopian and dystopian video works.
Why is the exhibition called Shadow Plays?
I liked the reference to the shadow play, an ancient form of storytelling popular throughout Asia that often relays mythical or morality tales. Cao Fei’s “Haze and Fog” and “RMB City” are are modern myths—exploring the moral, ethical, and spiritual aspects of the contemporary urban condition.
Also, the works inhabit a shadowy territory, on the edge of visibility and tangibility, and they come from parallel universes, one being Second Life, a virtual world that is a fantastic mirror for our material world, and the other a surreally-inflected, crystallized version of our reality.
What made you want to bring a show by Cao Fei to Los Angeles?
Cao Fei’s work seemed so powerfully right for L.A., particularly for Downtown L.A., at this point in time. Although she sets much of her work in contemporary urban China, her distillation of the anxieties and anomie of the mega-metropolis translate perfectly to many other globalized cities like Los Angeles—our concerns about overdevelopment, population density, the shift toward a service economy, and the increasingly dramatic wealth gap, among other things, are shared across the Pacific.
Cao Fei’s work often represents architecture and urbanism. What lessons can multimedia art offer architecture?
The physical urban environment is such a crucial structuring element of our social system, and reflecting it through film, video, computer games and virtual reality are ways to shine a light on its reverberations. One could say that these works are fables, taking the contemporary mores around building and urban development to their most absurd conclusions. I think Cao Fei has a unique ability to distill an often-confusing morass of experiences into a powerful narrative moment or image, which winds up being the most valuable takeaway.