Past Exhibitions

Cao Fei: Whose Utopia?

Exhibition Through September 2, 2007

Born in 1978 in Guangzhou, in the Guangdong Province of China, Cao Fei is a member of the new generation of Chinese artists coming of age at the turn of the millennium. Surrounded by an ever-accelerating society, Cao believes the realities of the day-to-day lives of her fellow countrymen are more remarkable and incredible than the notion of artistic verity. For Whose Utopia?, Cao Fei spent six months at the OSRAM China Lighting Ltd. factory in the Pearl River Delta in China. Located in Guangdong Province, the Pearl River Delta has led the massive boom in China’s economy since the late 1970s. From 1980 to 2001 the region’s gross domestic product grew from eight billion USD to just over one hundred billion USD. A major manufacturing base for everyday products for Chinese and foreign markets, the region has drawn workers from throughout China in search of economic opportunities and a better life. 

According to Cao, “most of the workers left their hometowns in pursuit of their ideal and dream in the Pearl River Delta area.” In the piece she focuses “on the innermost feelings of every individual in this globalized production chain, this giant and complex system of business, placing them at the center of attention, so as to let them rediscover their personal value which is often neglected during the process of creating huge business value.” 

The installation is anchored by the video Whose Utopia?, an eerily beautiful portrait of the factory and of the workers’ daily lives, fantasies, and aspirations. Scenes from a typical workday are interspersed with performances by a peacock dancer, a ballerina dressed as an angel, an electric guitar player, and a break dancer. The final segment of the video—My Future is Not a Dream—is named after the rock band that formed as part of the project. A statement that can be read as both a positive statement of the fairytale possibilities of the future or as a hard dose of reality, the sentiment captures the dual nature of China’s current economic boom. 


Exhibition Credits

Whose Utopia? is presented in collaboration with the Walter & McBean Galleries at the San Francisco Art Institute. Cao Fei: Whose Utopia? was organized by Aimee Chang, former OCMA curator of contemporary art.