Cao Fei

Foto: Myrzik und Jarisch
Cao Fei

Artist Cao Fei answers your twelve-piece questionnaire—on headaches, dreams and on being your own audience

What are you working on at the moment?
Recently, I was in between half-resting and half-working. Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, many of my future projects were either delayed or cancelled.

Which part of your work do you enjoy the most, which the least?
What I enjoy the most is being attracted by the subjects of my creative research, especially the progress of getting to know them and their lives. I also love having stimulating conversations with different kinds of people at different stages of my working process. The least enjoyable part is the headache and lack of sleep caused by excessive work intensity.

Who or what has influenced you in your work?
Most of my works are open-ended, exploratory and interdisciplinary. Whether for ›RMB City‹ back in 2007 or my recent ›HX‹ project, I have met many experts and scholars from lots of different fields, such as architecture, philosophy, film, literature, fashion, and others. Their insights and interpretations often inspire me to expand my process and discover new perspectives.

Which artwork do you return to again and again?
If I go back and watch my own work after a very long time, I behave like an audience who just saw it: I am touched by the story and even shed a tear, like when I watch ›i.Mirror‹ (2007) or ›Whose Utopia‹ (2006). I am a very emotional person and I really put in my efforts and true emotions into all of my works. Sometimes the project grows into something more than an artwork: it becomes my shadow, the projection of my emotions towards the world. My works are like my dreams, and meeting my own dream is such a magical and joyful thing, even when you are watching it with tears.

What would you do if you weren’t an artist?
Movie director? Amateur actress? Columnist? Teacher?

How does your workspace/desk look like?
I don’t like big empty spaces, they make it difficult for me to concentrate. I can edit videos and write articles on the plane, and I could work under various conditions like in cafés, besides the pool, and even on my kids’ bed when they are falling asleep. I don’t have a high standard as I could work anywhere: the dinner table is great, on my lap is fine, and the tiny dressing table in a hotel room is also not bad. Since one can do so much on a mobile phone these days, work could really be done at any time and place.

Where do you like spending time most of all?
There is neither a perfect home nor a perfect city. As time has become so fragmented now, our attention is being largely drawn to the online world. What we really perceive may be the small things like the intensity of the shower, the temperature, the comfort of our pillows, the light, the smell, the food. Our online existence greatly eliminates the boundary of time and space, as our bodies slowly disappear into the digital, no longer emphasizing where we are. Even if we are spending our holidays on the top of a Swiss mountain or at a beach in Thailand, our mind and soul still partly remain in the »cloud«—the other side of the screen.

What space would you like to enter at some point?
The answer is »dream«. Because it is subconscious, pictorial, weakly narrative, surreal, and the process is not linear at all. The characters in our dreams are either close to us or unfamiliar, the plot ranges from sadness to happiness, it could be scary, or simply incomprehensible. Dreams are another linguistic system of life—the reorganisation and transcendence of our reality order. Just think about it, one third of our lives we actually are on another journey—that is such a beautiful thing.

What do you like doing most when you’re alone?
There is almost no time to be alone since my children were born. If there is, I would be working at midnight after my kids fall asleep, or my way to picking up my little ones from school, or walking my dog, or having exhibitions overseas. The pure »solo moment« is almost nonexistent. I guess I used to randomly check out the E-commerce app Taobao on my phone a lot as a way to relax.

What thing enriches your everyday life?
It’s enough for me to be thinking about my projects and taking care of my kids, I actually hope that my life can be »less rich«.

What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve been reading some articles by Norbert Wiener, the father of ›cybernetics‹. Weiner foresaw that in the near future, artificial intelligence will cause huge damage to our society, and the automation of manufacturing will lead to the unemployment of many workers. Wiener’s view of the world is extremely pessimistic. But what we have today is as important and urgent as what Weiner has foreseen. In addition, the sudden death of Bernard Stiegler recently made people rethink his radicalness. He opened up a new vision of thought and action for contemporary art. His departure is a huge loss to the world.

What was your last trip before the lockdown? Your first after the lockdown?
The last trip before the lockdown was to London for the opening of my solo exhibition ›Blueprints‹ at the Serpentine Galleries. The first trip after the lockdown has not occurred yet, as my family and I still have been stranded in Singapore since the beginning of the pandemic. This is probably the longest trip I’ve ever had.

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