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Born: 1978, Guangzhou, China
Lives and Works: Beijing
Cao Fei is fascinated by contemporary Chinese cities as well as the interior lives of young people who have grown up, as she has, in the frenetic post-Communist era. Her art often documents dream-like encounters and the "antiheroes" of imagined worlds. Set in a lightbulb factory in Foshan (and originally commissioned by electronics giant Siemens), the film Whose Utopia (2006-2007) might be read as a eulogy to China's recent economic and manufacturing boom. Amid scenes dominated by almost hypnotic "mechanical ballets" of assembly-line processes and movements—neon tubes being soldered or tested, for example—there are sequences in which individual workers from the facility perform literal dances of their own. Dressed in decidedly non-company-issue clothing, these men and women are seen moving gracefully between the machines, like sprites consumed by an entirely personal, whimsical, and perhaps defiant choreography. Their escapist "purposeless" performances effect a stark contrast with seemingly relentless progress as the production of consumer goods continues unabated around them. The dances seem to bring a more spiritual dimension into the regular and no doubt less emotionally illuminating activities in the bulb factory.
Links: Cao Fei web site