Cao Fei: “PRD Anti-Heroes”

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Episode #140: Artist Cao Fei discusses her multi-media theatrical work “PRD Anti-Heroes” (2005), a play performed by non-professional actors. Investigating the “anonymous and unsung heroes” of the Pearl River Delta or “the factory of the world,” Cao’s production incorporates elements of traditional Chinese legends, Hong Kong soap operas, and Cantonese farces.

Cao’s work reflects the fluidity of a world in which cultures have mixed and diverged in rapid evolution. Her video installations and new media works explore perception and reality in places as diverse as a Chinese factory and the virtual world of Second Life. Depictions of Chinese architecture and landscape abound in scenes of hyper-capitalistic Pearl River Delta development, in images that echo traditional Chinese painting, and in the design of her own virtual utopia, “RMB City.” Fascinated by the world of Second Life, Cao Fei has created several works in which she is both participant and observer through her Second Life avatar, China Tracy, who acts as a guide, philosopher, and tourist.

Cao Fei is featured in the Season 5 (2009) episode Fantasy of the Art in the Twenty-First Century television series on PBS. Watch full episodes online for free via PBS Video or Hulu, as a paid download via iTunes (link opens application), or as part of a Netflix streaming subscription.

CREDITS | Producer: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Interview & Translation: Phil Tinari & Xiaotong Wang. Camera: Takahisa Araki. Editor: Joaquin Perez. Voiceover: Clara Jo. Artwork Courtesy: Cao Fei. Video: © 2011 Art21, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Cao Fei. "PRD Anti-Heroes," 2006. Video still. Multi-media opera, single-channel color video with sound, 2 hours 22 minutes. Courtesy the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects, New York. © Cao Fei.

Cao Fei. "PRD Anti-Heroes," 2006. Video still. Multi-media opera, single-channel color video with sound, 2 hours 22 minutes. Courtesy the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects, New York. © Cao Fei.

Cao Fei. "PRD Anti-Heroes," 2006. Video still. Multi-media opera, single-channel color video with sound, 2 hours 22 minutes. Courtesy the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects, New York. © Cao Fei.

Cao Fei. "PRD Anti-Heroes," 2006. Video still. Multi-media opera, single-channel color video with sound, 2 hours 22 minutes. Courtesy the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects, New York. © Cao Fei.

Cao Fei. "PRD Anti-Heroes," 2006. Video still. Multi-media opera, single-channel color video with sound, 2 hours 22 minutes. Courtesy the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects, New York. © Cao Fei.

Cao Fei. "PRD Anti-Heroes," 2006. Video still. Multi-media opera, single-channel color video with sound, 2 hours 22 minutes. Courtesy the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects, New York. © Cao Fei.

Cao Fei. "PRD Anti-Heroes," 2006. Video still. Multi-media opera, single-channel color video with sound, 2 hours 22 minutes. Courtesy the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects, New York. © Cao Fei.

Cao Fei. "PRD Anti-Heroes," 2006. Video still. Multi-media opera, single-channel color video with sound, 2 hours 22 minutes. Courtesy the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects, New York. © Cao Fei.

Cao Fei. "PRD Anti-Heroes," 2006. Video still. Multi-media opera, single-channel color video with sound, 2 hours 22 minutes. Courtesy the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects, New York. © Cao Fei.

Cao Fei. "PRD Anti-Heroes," 2006. Video still. Multi-media opera, single-channel color video with sound, 2 hours 22 minutes. Courtesy the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects, New York. © Cao Fei.

Cao Fei. "PRD Anti-Heroes," 2006. Video still. Multi-media opera, single-channel color video with sound, 2 hours 22 minutes. Courtesy the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects, New York. © Cao Fei.

Cao Fei. "PRD Anti-Heroes," 2006. Video still. Multi-media opera, single-channel color video with sound, 2 hours 22 minutes. Courtesy the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects, New York. © Cao Fei.

Cao Fei. "PRD Anti-Heroes," 2006. Video still. Multi-media opera, single-channel color video with sound, 2 hours 22 minutes. Courtesy the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects, New York. © Cao Fei.

Cao Fei. "PRD Anti-Heroes," 2006. Video still. Multi-media opera, single-channel color video with sound, 2 hours 22 minutes. Courtesy the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects, New York. © Cao Fei.

Cao Fei. "PRD Anti-Heroes," 2006. Video still. Multi-media opera, single-channel color video with sound, 2 hours 22 minutes. Courtesy the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects, New York. © Cao Fei.

Cao Fei. "PRD Anti-Heroes," 2006. Video still. Multi-media opera, single-channel color video with sound, 2 hours 22 minutes. Courtesy the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects, New York. © Cao Fei.

Cao Fei. "PRD Anti-Heroes," 2006. Video still. Multi-media opera, single-channel color video with sound, 2 hours 22 minutes. Courtesy the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects, New York. © Cao Fei.

Cao Fei. "PRD Anti-Heroes," 2006. Video still. Multi-media opera, single-channel color video with sound, 2 hours 22 minutes. Courtesy the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects, New York. © Cao Fei.

Contributor
Jonathan Munar is the Director of Digital Media and Strategy at Art21, overseeing the organization's overall digital, Web, and social media presences. He edits and contributes to Art21's "Art 2.1" column.
  1. The tableux vivants of Cao Fei’s work “PRD Anti-Heroes” present an admirable new example of grace under pressure: their creator, an artist of considerable expertise and wit, fearlessly dares to satirize the economic engine of her country. And though the People’s Republic of China is no longer as repressive as it once was under Mao, it tolerates criticism of its socio-political mechanisms with great difficulty and reluctance.

    One hopes that the Western embrace of Cao’s art, and that of her contemporaries, will eventually allay the fears of China’s businessman/functionary class that cultural satire will topple their tower — and show them instead that their economic strength will ultimately be measured in part by their tolerance of free expression. May this also come in time to safeguard the civil liberties of Cao Fei and all other Chinese workers in the arts.

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