《纽约时报》艺术版 New York Times: Chinese Life as Child’s Play, June 5

[ 2011-06-04 15:05:35 | 作者Author: caofei ]
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Photo: Shiho Fukada for The New York Times

New York Times - Art and Design: Chinese Life as Child’s Play
By CAROL KINO
Published: June 2, 2011

SOMETIMES the most telling things about a society can be found in the messages it broadcasts to children. That seems to be the gist of a curious 10-minute video on view at Lombard-Freid Projects in Chelsea. In it a Chinese-built truck made to look like Thomas the Tank Engine tootles around Beijing, delighting the children it encounters. But the truck is actually on a more prosaic mission: picking up rubble from one of the city’s many construction sites and unloading it in a dump near the Summer Palace.

It is one of the pieces in “Play Time,” a new show by the Chinese artist Cao Fei that runs through June 25.

Although the BBC’s “Thomas and Friends” has been broadcast since 2008 in China, Ms. Cao said she was blind to it and other children’s shows until the birth of her son, Lim Sun Yun, in 2009. “That is what he watches!” she exclaimed on a Skype call from Beijing, still sounding a bit surprised.

“Daily,” emphasized her husband, the Singaporean conceptualist Lim Tzay Chuen, who sat in as translator for part of the interview.

Ms. Cao, 33, who is expecting another baby in October, added: “My assistants, they don’t know about these characters. But all the children and parents do.”

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A veteran of two Venice Biennales, one Carnegie International and countless international fairs and expositions, Ms. Cao is one of mainland China’s hottest art exports, known for videos and conceptual projects that uncover curious subcultures, all while shining a light on contemporary Chinese life. With the 2004 video “Cosplayers,” she honed in on China’s early “cosplay” scene, following kids costumed like Japanese anime characters as they staged fantastical battles, then returned to humdrum home lives. For “Whose Utopia” (2006-7) she persuaded workers in a Guangdong Province light-bulb factory to enact their fantasies and filmed them as rock musicians, break dancers and ballerinas on the factory floor.

In 2007 Ms. Cao began delving into the online world Second Life, where she eventually built her own island metropolis, “RMB City,” which opened in 2009. Named for the renminbi, China’s currency, its exuberant landscape — a mash-up of real and invented landmarks — seemed to echo the country’s rampant real-estate development. Together with her avatar, China Tracy, Ms. Cao created videos, games and performances there, exploring the interplay between real and virtual life. “For me it was like an artist’s residency in the virtual world,” she said.

And now Ms. Cao has zeroed in on yet another subculture: the world of childhood, as viewed through its entertainments, moral messages and toys.

Besides as the Thomas piece “Play Time” includes a video featuring some incredibly skillful shadow puppets, and a series of photographs based on another popular BBC export, “In the Night Garden,” a surreal adventure show for preschoolers that takes over where the Teletubbies left off. There is also a skate park for fingerboards (miniature skateboards controlled by the fingers), whose architecture is somewhat reminiscent of “RMB City.”

The show seems to be a transitional one for Ms. Cao, who plans to shut down “RMB City” this summer. But it has her trademark sensibility: pop and playful on the surface, complex social portrait beneath.

Take the Thomas video, named “East Wind,” after Mao’s 1957 declaration that “the east wind is prevailing over the west wind,” which presaged China’s first wave of nationalist industrial development. But the specter of a Chinese-made truck merrily disguised as a British import (especially considering that many Western toys are made in China) suggests that East and West are now inextricably intertwined.

By contrast, the shadow puppet video, inspired by a long-ago state broadcast of a Chinese Spring Festival Gala, seems an ironic nod to the entertainments of Ms. Cao’s own childhood during the early days of China’s economic reform. It features a Mao-like dictator who crushes the hands that applaud him, after which the countryside is obliterated by backhoes and derricks, leaving peasants and animals wandering among skyscrapers to the sound of upbeat music.

Ms. Cao said her initial inspiration for the show was the 1967 movie “Playtime” by Jacques Tati, the French filmmaker, a meditation on midcentury urban life filmed in Tativille, a vast set filled with modernist skyscrapers that he erected outside Paris. “Tati created a D.I.Y. world by himself,” Ms. Cao observed. “I liked the fact that he could manipulate that world and use it to critique modern society.”

She also had “Playtime” in mind while creating “RMB City,” she said. “ ‘Playtime’ for me means like the theater, a play,” she added, “and also playing with society, playing with the work.

For Ms. Cao play and art making have always been intertwined. Born in 1978 in Guangzhou, just as China was opening to the West, she grew up amusing herself in the studio of her father, the realist sculptor Cao Chong’en. (As Ms. Cao pointed out, his work, like her own, “documents society.” Early on, he sculpted Mao and other party leaders but is now best known for a 2005 statue of Bruce Lee on the Avenue of Stars in Hong Kong.)

She was raised in one of China’s first special economic zones, the site of its earliest experiments with capitalism. At 13 she began acting in television commercials directed by her older sister, and she later worked as an art director in the same industry. “All my experience did not come from art school,” she said. “It’s from growing up in the early 1990s in the south of China.”

Her first brush with directing came in high school, when she mounted a wacky 10-minute skit about “a couple who kill people on their way to get money,” she said, creating a huge student hit. After her sister noted its resemblance to the 1994 film “Natural Born Killers,” Ms. Cao began watching movies that went beyond standard Hollywood fare. “At the end of the last century,” she said, “a lot of foreign art films came to China as pirated VCDs. So when people ask me how I learn the camera, I think it’s from those kinds of films.”

She made her first film in 1999. Called “Imbalance 257,” it showcased the subversive ways that her fellow students passed their time: watching pornography; playing practical jokes; taking drugs; practicing Qi Gong, a traditional spiritual practice based on breathing exercises. Her teacher sent a copy to the independent curator Hou Hanru, now director of exhibitions and public programs for the San Francisco Art Institute. Although it had been made with a home camera, “the shooting was amazing, with these long tracking shots and crazily fantastic angles,” Mr. Hou said. Bowled over by Ms. Cao’s “capacity to deal with film language and also her understanding of Chinese youth culture,” he included the piece in PhotoEspaña 2000, an annual photography festival in Madrid, and the Pusan International Contemporary Art Festival in South Korea (now the Busan Biennial).

By the time Ms. Cao finished art school in 2001 she had a career in Europe and Asia. American interest soon followed, and Ms. Cao made the most of it.

“From the beginning she was very organized, with a team around her,” said Christopher Phillips, a curator at the International Center for Photography. “She was ready to go at an international level much, much earlier than many other Chinese artists.” He introduced Ms. Cao to New York in “Between Past and Future,” a 2004 show of Chinese photography and video that took place at the center and the Asia Society. Later, for the 2009 ICP Triennial, Ms. Cao created a new Second Life avatar for visitors to play with.

“The more knowledgeable young visitors immediately hijacked the avatar and took her to horrific sex clubs,” Mr. Phillips said, noting that he had checked the exhibition regularly to make sure the creature wasn’t engaged in anything too lurid. “That really made me see that she’s communicating very directly with a shockingly young audience, picking up what they’re thinking, and incorporating that into her work.”

As for Ms. Cao, she seems bent on tuning her observations to an even younger audience. “I think not too many parents pay attention to kids’ films and stories,” she said. “But when I see them, I think critically. I have trained eyes.”
[最后修改由 caofei, 于 2011-06-26 10:41:57]
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