Cao Fei belongs to a new generation of Chinese artists who grew up with video games, the internet and Manga, and who came to maturity in the late 1990s, at the beginning of China’s current economic boom. Cao Fei’s work examines the interplay between the reality of social change in China and the wishes, aspirations and fantasies of the younger generation, who find themselves disconnected from China’s past, but uncertain of how to exist in the flux of a rapidly changing country.
Cao Fei’s attention is drawn to the evolving subcultures through which urban youth articulate individual identity.
The video Whose Utopia (2006) is set in the huge Osram lighting factory in the Pearl River delta industrial region. In three parts, the video surveys the production of light bulbs, and documents the workers in the factory environment. The middle section, by contrast, depicts a ballerina, a break-dancer and a dancer in angel wings, all dancing in the aisles of the factory, while other workers work on heedlessly. The video maps the conflict between workers’ aspirations for a better future and the escapist acceptance of a humdrum existence.