Cao Fei: Splendid River

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For Cao Fei’s exhibition at the Vienna Secession, in the outdoor installation Splendid River (2015), four Chinese characters temporarily decorate the Secession’s façade, replicating a replica of the Secession building in Cao Fei’s hometown of Guangzhou, where the building houses the offices of a real estate business. Copying is a common phenomenon in China, where anything from popular brand-name products to icons of Western architecture or even whole towns are faked. Splendid Mirror (2015) similarly addresses the relationship between original and replica. A large number of fake mirrored aviator sunglasses are arranged in a showcase as if for sale. The mirrored glass not only reflects what is regarded as fashionable and ‘cool’; with its one-way visibility, it also alludes to modes of concealing and revealing one’s identity on the Internet.

In her 4-channel video installation Strangers (2015), Cao Fei uses an online dating platform as a space for small, performative interventions for ‘random strangers’ to watch: a random shadow play in front of a city skyline; a Buddha figure smiling into the camera; a person asleep in bed. Users log in from around the world—usually expecting to find sexual attraction, distraction from their everyday routine, or simply driven by curiosity. While individuals seem to become more and more detached from their immediate fellow citizens and surroundings, dating platforms are becoming increasingly popular. Their approach toward human interaction in virtual reality is a strongly consumerist one: the passive voyeur zaps from one stranger to another, like zapping TV channels. Cao Fei’s subtle interventions deliberately do not meet users’ common expectations and the bored gaze of the stranger turns to the next channel, but they nevertheless have the power to surprise, to entertain, and to question.

In the installation Rumba (2015), automated performances take place according to a fixed schedule: household robots perform a kind of random choreography. Triggered by an invisible signal, four cleaning robots start to circle around a stage with barriers and bridges, as if dancing with joy over the conveniences that automation offers the newly rich and middle class.


Text: edited from the press release of Cao Fei’s solo exhibition “Splendid River” at Secession.
Image: courtesy Secession, Photo by Oliver Ottenschläger; Courtesy the artist, photo by Cao Fei

Exhibition info:
Cao Fei
Splendid River


Cao Fei
Splendid River
120 pages
Format: 165 x 222 mm
Texts: Cao Fei
Secession 2015
Distribution: Revolver Verlag