Acquires Video by Acclaimed Chinese Artist
Smith College Museum of Art (SCMA) is pleased to announce
the acquisition of The Birth of RMB
City, an animated video
of the “construction” of a virtual city named after the Chinese
unit of currency (RMB/Renminbi) by the acclaimed Chinese
artist Cao Fei.
The work is now on view in the
Gallery through May 30.
of RMB City is the
first acquisition of the SCMA Contemporary Associates (CA),
a donor group chaired by Wendy Cromwell, Smith class of 1986,
dedicated to building the Museum’s permanent collection of
contemporary art primarily in the areas of film, video, and
photography. The acquisition of this work fulfills several
objectives established by the Museum as well as the Contemporary
Associates: to significantly strengthen the Museum’s collection
of Asian art and new media while offering an important teaching
tool for Smith College faculty.
Cao Fei created her virtual
city as an amalgamation of old and new Asian architectural
landmarks, including: the People’s Palace in Beijing, fronted
by a flooded Tiananmen Square; Rem Koolhaas' and Ole Scheeren’s
CCTV building in Beijing, a glass and steel structure with
two leaning towers and a dramatically cantilevered prow shown
dangling from a crane; the “Bird’s Nest” stadium from the
2008 Beijing summer Olympics (portrayed by the artist as
the rusted remnants of the structure); and Jiang Huan Cheng’s “Oriental
Pearl Tower” in Shanghai. A spoked wheel “observation” platform
rotates above the city. At street level there are marketplaces
and a series of identical, low row houses surrounded by barbed
wire (possibly a reference to contemporary “socialist housing”).
A factory tower continuously belches fire and smoke, and
a panda (the city’s “love center”) floats like a Macy’s Thanksgiving
Day Parade balloon above the skyline.
The evolution of this
and other videos related to RMB City began with the artist’s
encounters with the “Second Life” platform on the Internet.
Second Life was launched in 2003 as a virtual platform for
participants to create a parallel reality in which to live
out their dreams. Each user is represented by an “avatar,” a
digital figure that can be customized and controlled. Participants
visiting existing Second Life environments can communicate
and form relationships, purchase land, design buildings,
develop businesses, and trade in the marketplace of their
In May 2008 Cao Fei’s work on RMB City was presented
as an exhibition at Lombard Freid Gallery in New York. Construction
continued until RMB City’s grand opening on Second Life with
full public access on January 10, 2009. The
Birth of RMB City video was created in 2009, after the launch on Second
Life, and shows the creation of the city, building-by-building,
orchestrated by construction figures. At the close of the
videos, all the structures disappear, as RMB City itself
will ultimately disappear from the Second Life platform.
The Guggenheim Museum, which has named Cao Fei a Hugo Boss
award finalist for 2010, is now creating a satellite museum
on the site.
Born in Guangzhou, China in
1978, Cao Fei lives and works primarily in Beijing. Acknowledged
as one of the key young artists emerging from Mainland China,
the artist blends social commentary, popular aesthetics,
Surrealism, and documentary conventions, commenting on the
rapid and chaotic changes occurring in all facets of contemporary
Chinese society. Cao Fei’s 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. Applying
strategies of sampling, role play, and documentary filmmaking
to capture individuals' longings and the ways in which they
imagine themselves—as hip-hop musicians, costumed characters,
or digitized alter egos—Cao Fei reveals the discrepancy between
reality and dream, and the discontent and disillusionment
of China’s younger generation.
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,
Cao Fei’s work has appeared in solo exhibitions
at the Serpentine Gallery, London); Orange County Museum
of Art, Newport Beach, California; Museum Het Domein, Sittard,
Netherlands; and Para Site Art Space, Hong Kong.