Over the course of human history, civilization has always been caught in a state of flux, a tension that ebbs and flows between tradition and modernity. Nowhere is this thought perhaps most present in the technology that has guided us throughout and continues to change the way we experience daily life, as a result. A constant observer of culture, Chinese artist Cao Fei has dedicated the past 20 years to understanding what it means to be human amidst the rapid advancements ushered in by the 21st century.
On view now at Sprüth Magers Berlin is a new solo exhibition where Fei transforms the entire gallery into an unworldly think-space that ruminates on the blurring lines between reality and the growing digital realm of the metaverse. Well-known for her elaborate scenography, each aspect of the gallery has been layered with unique approaches to lighting and colored window panes to wall decals and LED monitors that are made to imbue a feeling of transcendence.
Complementing the interior are a series of films and installations showcasing some of Fei’s most recent works, such as Isle of Instability (2020), which documents the early stages of quarantine in Singapore, where the artist created a faux island in her living room for her daughter as an escape from the confines of lockdown; as well as Nova (2019), a melancholic tale exploring concepts of time, space and fictional geopolitics. In the latter, a Chinese scientist is trying to crack the mystery of time travel with a Russian scientist, whom he falls in love with. As the story unfolds, he accidentally traps his son in a space time continuum — setting the stage for a series of retro-futuristic escapades.
If one were to ponder the on the idea of time travel, usually what comes to mind — more than just experiencing the period itself, with all its nuances — is an insistence on whether an event actually unfolded in the way it has been recorded. Fei’s work, however, is “neither about ordering and archiving things nor about revealing forgotten histories,” as she’s recounted in the past, but rather, both a dramatic and frantic meditation on social upheavals, physical and virtual spaces, along with age-old themes pertaining love and grief.
Fei will also be debuting newer works for the first time outside China, such as Meta-mentary (2022), in which everyday people were interviewed about their thoughts pertaining the metaverse. When asked what they’d do in the virtual world, one man responded: “I would probably try to leave.”
The title of the exhibition, Duotopia, stems from the Mandarin word, “多 (duō)”, which means many — lending each film and installation to many different possibilities, where past and present, promise and peril, virtual and physical are conflated to meditate on the uncertainty of the times. As one of her largest solo shoes to date, Duotopia will be on view at Sprüth Magers until August 19.
Oranienburger Straße 18