Oasis in the middle of this onrushing modernist, a small black-and-white film, very simple, disturbing infinitely: it shows a man in shirt in the street, neither old nor young, not exactly a homeless man but not a model employee either. There he is, on the border of a park, on the walkway, in the midst of crowd, opening his arms, enclasping them on his heart, and then opening them again widely. He is singing, smiling while throwing his kisses to passers-by, who are totally indifferent. Into that scene, Cao Fei added a Chinese Jazz music in the 1930’s. It’s heartrending.
A small miracle!
Michel Nuridsany, China, Generation Video, Paris
« Cao Fei, Give me a kiss, Video, 5 Min., 2002
A little black and white film reminding of the fuzzy texture of China’s early movies with the accompaniment of Chinese Jazz of the 1930s: an ageless man, dressed in trousers and a short-sleeved shirt performing movements somewhere between dancing and exercise, seemingly unaware of his environment while at the same time offering kisses to passers-by for simply not ignoring him.
Born into a family of artists during the early years of opening and reform, Cao Fei belongs to the first generation who grew up entirely under the conditions of permanent social change, rapid spread of electronic media and the impact of international popular culture. This upbringing is clearly reflected in her artistic vitae. As early as in middle school, Cao Fei engaged in experimental theatre and gained first attention for her video Maladjustment 257 in the year 2000 even before graduating from her native Guangzhou’s academy of art. Working in a wide variety of media like video, conceptual photography, installation, text, documentary as well as fictional film, works appeared in quick succession. Her art is informed by the digital experiences of her generation, not shaped by the collective memory of the Mao-era. Unlike other artists Cao is not concerned with the social hardships of modernization from a general perspective but with it’s impact on the lives of middle-class urban youth. Cosplayer may yet be her best-known work. Depicting young people dressed as manga and anime characters, staging scenes from their favourite albums before the bizarre background of urban wastelands, the video is an artistic stylization of a popular past time of East-Asian young people who temporarily withdraw into a private world of fantasy role-play.
Although Cao Fei’s work may appear superficial and playful, it has a deep-rooted sense of reality and constitutes a coherent body of work – if that much can be said of such a young artist. Her latest piece, the avatar Chinatracy, a character of the worldwide online interactive cyber-community Second Life which she created for the 2007 Venice Bienniale, may in visual terms constitute a 180° antagonism to the pre-war aesthetic of Give me a kiss and yet constitutes a logical development of her œuvre so far. »