Cao Fei’s art is a study in exuberant ambiguity. Her early works were among the first to tackle the vibrant youth, factory, online, and regional cultures of the Mainland, capturing and reflecting upon the new kinds of human subjects and social relations that its economic transformation was making possible. Neither celebratory nor critical, and always with an eye for the surreal and the fun, her explorations propose characters and scenarios that question larger realities by deviating from them, creating hollows—spaces for suspended reflection—in a fast-moving world full of people, objects, and ideologies.
This exhibition, Cao Fei’s first large institutional exhibition in Asia, revolves around a newly commissioned film that engages directly with Tai Kwun’s layered history. Prison Architect unfolds as a poetic dialogue across time between two characters—a prisoner and an architect—who represent the building complex’s past as a police, judicial, and penal institution and its future as a cultural institution. Shown in an installation setting designed to embody this same complexity, the film makes references to colonial history, Hong Kong cinema, and the contemporary on the Mainland and globally, asking if we as viewers might be, like the inmates who inhabited this place before us, waiting indefinitely for trials to come.
Cao Fei (b. 1978, Guangzhou; lives and works in Beijing) is amongst the most internationally renowned artists of her generation. She has shown in biennials and triennials in Venice, Istanbul, Sydney, Yokohama, Moscow, Taipei, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, and at museums including the Guggenheim, MoMA, Serpentine Gallery, Tate Modern, Centre Pompidou, Palais de Tokyo, Fondation Louis Vuitton, Long Museum, and UCCA. Named the “Best Young Artist” (2006) and the “Best Artist” (2016) in the Chinese Contemporary Art Awards, she staged her first retrospective at MoMA P.S.1 in 2016, and will present another at K21 Düsseldorf this fall.