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Cao Fei. Meta-mentary – Lenbachhaus München | 13.04-08.09.2024

Editors’ Choice

From Saturday, April 13, 2024, Lenbachhaus Munich will present the exhibition Meta-mentary, immerse yourself in an exhibition space transformed by Cao Fei’s cinematic imagery and artistic vocabulary. Cao Fei is internationally recognized as one of the most important representatives of post-digital art. The term “post-digital” was coined in the early 2000s and refers to an art whose theme and essential component is the digital penetration of our everyday lives. Post-digital art originates in the digital and appropriates its structures and characteristics.

Image above: Ausstellungsansicht / Installation View, Cao Fei. Meta-mentary, Lenbachhaus, 2024. Foto / Photo: Simone Gänsheimer, Lenbachhaus, © Cao Fei, 2024. Courtesy Sprüth Magers and Vitamin Creative Space

Cao Fei was born in Guangzhou, China, in 1978, as the daughter of two artists. She graduated from the local state art academy in 2001. As a child of the Pearl River Delta, she grew up in an area of China that was at the center of rapid economic growth and urban development. Pop culture, computer games, consumer electronics and the latest technologies accompanied her youth. She has lived and worked in Beijing since 2006.

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Ausstellungsansicht / Installation View, Cao Fei. Meta-mentary, Lenbachhaus, 2024. Foto / Photo: Simone Gänsheimer, Lenbachhaus, © Cao Fei, 2024. Courtesy Sprüth Magers and Vitamin Creative Space

In her films, photographs and walk-in multimedia installations, Cao Fei deals with the economic and societal upheavals in living conditions that affect her and all of us. Digitalization, globalization, the transformation of urban and suburban structures that determine our living environments are at the core of her artistic work. Based on her research, her questions focus on how the circumstances shape our lives as humans, on how we react to the developments around us and adapt to them or actively incorporate them into our lives. For her work, Cao Fei herself sometimes visits the virtual world using her avatars, and she documents her perception and appropriation of virtual realities in an unmistakable visual imagery creating distinctive artistic spaces. Five thematic areas guide you through the artist’s universe of research and thought – subdivided in the booklet by double-page images.

The projects are related to each other through recurring themes or characters.

Cao Fei goes in search of the metaverse in her film Meta-mentary, which gives this exhibition its title and marks its beginning. It starts with the question: “How do I get to the metaverse?” Interviews done on the streets of Chinese cities serve to explore opinions on the metaverse and the possibilities it offers as an alternative reality of life

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Ausstellungsansicht / Installation View, Cao Fei. Meta-mentary, Lenbachhaus, 2024. Foto / Photo: Simone Gänsheimer, Lenbachhaus, © Cao Fei, 2024. Courtesy Sprüth Magers and Vitamin Creative Space

The giant Asia One Octopus stands as a symbol for a human-machine equipped with intelligence, embodying our existence between an organic being living in reality and a technically controlled device in virtuality.

In Cosplayers, Cao Fei documents the hobby of people who assume the identity of animé characters by means of self-made costumes and create temporary worlds and environments in which they reside and interact with one another.

Typically, leisure activities are an important part of life in China. The focus of these activities, often organized by the authorities, is on social interaction and joint physical activity. Games and entertainment are used to distract people from political participation. In the exhibition, the theme of “leisure” appears in films such as A Holiday or Matryoshka Verse; however, it is also manifest in the badminton court, which can be actively used by our visitors. You are invited to pick up the rackets at any time and play badminton with your companion or fellow visitors—we hope you enjoy it!

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Cao Fei, DUOTOPIA 03, 2023, Fotografie / Photograph, Digitaldruck auf Diasec / Inkjet on diasec, 200 x 145 cm © Cao Fei 2024, Courtesy Sprüth Magers and Vitamin Creative Space

As the avatar Oz, Cao Fei inhabits DUOTOPIA—her first architectural construction in the metaverse. “Duo” means “many” in Mandarin. The two associated films 1st and 2nd Edition show designs of dream worlds set in an unspecified future

Cao Fei’s Trilogy—A Holiday, Isle of Instability, Still Alive—consists of films she made during the pandemic and the shutdown period. The “ZeroCovid” policy in China invaded the reality of people’s and families’ lives in many ways: Professional and financial slumps, homeschooling, boredom, interruptions of developments, medical emergencies, even death were among the consequences that in some cases will be felt only in the future. In various filmic portrayals and stories of human hardship from 2020 until 2022, the artist traces different realities of life during the Covid pandemic.

One of her key works is the RMB City complex. In 2006, Cao Fei entered the virtual platform Second Life with her first avatar, China Tracy, and founded the fictional RMB City. This resulted in several films and projects that are on display in the exhibition.

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Cao Fei, MatryoshkaVerse 06, 2022, Fotografie / Photograph, Digitaldruck auf Diasec / Inkjet on diasec, 105 x 157 cm © Cao Fei 2024, Courtesy Sprüth Magers and Vitamin Creative Space

The last part of the show focuses on the years of close Sino-Soviet relations between 1949 and 1990. Fantastical and documented elements, invention and reality, digital and human are combined in MatryoshkaVerse, Nova and Hongxia to create surreal, dystopian images with their skillfully designed aesthetic. They can be experienced through films and a comprehensive installation.

Cao Fei’s multimedia projects expose the ways we as humans cope with the beauty and at the same time with the dangers of a technologized, globalized and hyperconnected world and the physical and psychological effects it has on us. The artist explores and shows how rapid societal change is accelerated by digital technologies, thereby touching and changing human experience and the perception of self at its core. Her works oscillate between melancholy and humor, between utopia and dystopia, between beauty and horror.

Cao Fei’s art has been featured in numerous international exhibitions: Shanghai Biennale 2004, Moscow Biennale 2005, Taipei Biennale 2006, Sydney Biennale 2006 and 2010, Istanbul Biennale 2007, Yokohama Triennale 2008, Venice Biennale 2003, 2007 and 2015. Selected solo exhibitions: MoMA PS1, New York, 2016; Tai Kwun Contemporary, Hong Kong, 2018; K21, Düsseldorf, 2018; Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2019; Serpentine Galleries, London, 2020; UCCA Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, 2021; MAXXI Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo, Rome, 2021; Pinacoteca de São Paolo 2023. In 2024 she was awarded the SCAD deFINE ART prize.

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Ausstellungsansicht / Installation View, Cao Fei. Meta-mentary, Lenbachhaus, 2024. Foto / Photo: Simone Gänsheimer, Lenbachhaus, © Cao Fei, 2024. Courtesy Sprüth Magers and Vitamin Creative Space

Meta-mentary

“I want to go to the metaverse,” such is the voice input into a navigation software at the beginning of Meta-mentary. Like on smartphones, the video is filmed and presented in the portrait mode. Cao Fei’s explorations begin in a cab. On her way to the “metaverse,” the artist interviews various people she meets by chance on the streets of Beijing and other Chinese cities. She asks them questions about the condition of the metaverse, its potential, its components, challenges, and possibilities. These questions and answers result in a picture in which she brings into question the analog and the digital, authenticity and reproduction as well as the boundaries and overlaps of real and virtual space. At the same time, she invites us to reflect on the influence of the digital revolution on our identity, emotions and needs, as well as our sense of community, social relationships, and interactions.

Cao Fei’s foray leads her to a Metaverse Demonstration Mall, which is located in a secluded backyard and only accessible to members. Considering our complex world, in which real and virtual spaces are becoming increasingly intertwined and complementary, the artist emphasizes that everyone should decide for themselves how to participate and interact with the different worlds. Attitudes, not least a certain skepticism, are essential to an integrative handling of the potential of both worlds.

WHEN?

Saturday, 13. April until Sunday, 8. September 2024

Opening hours:
Monday: closed
Tuesday until Sunday: 10 am – 6 pm
Thursday: 10 am – 8 pm

WHERE?

Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus
Luisenstraße 33
80333 München

COSTS?

Regular: 10 Euro
Reduced: 5 Euro

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