CIAC’s Electronic Magazine, no 31/2008
by Patrick Lichty
THE NEW CITIZEN/ARCHITECT: CAO FEI/RMB CITY
Another metatect in online worlds is Chinese artist Cao Fei, whose iMirror and RMB City touch on the socially constructive nature of virtual worlds, especially Second Life. iMirror 23, her romantic odyssey across Second Life, follows from her previous work, CosPlayers, that crosses cultures by exploring Chinese youth engaging in the Japanese pop practice of “Cosplay” who dress as anime and other characters (a practice which is also common in North America.) In iMirror, her avatar, China Tracy, a Chinese girl in synthetic skin (another form of Cosplay?) travels about the synthetic “Global Village” of SL in playful innocence with her virtual confidante, named “Hug Yue”. They travel the virtual world, feelings, identity, and wondering about “forgetting the real darkness” of the physical. What is significant is that China, romantic cosplayer, does not unlink her “object self” from the artist Cao Fei (like Babeli). iMirror is a documentary with relational components as China searches in an innocent Calle-like quest for the person behind “Hug”, but does retains the form of the document, retaining the formal component, and I would argue, a sort of objecthood.
In RMB City, Cao Fei plays with (dys/ut)opia in assuming the role of a virtual developer for an interpretation of Olympic Beijing. The city contains virtual analogues of the Koolhaas’ CCTV headquarters, pandas on construction cranes, a Duchampian (Ferris) wheel and many other signifiers of emergent Beijing. In addition, Cao Fei, reflecting the opening real estate sales scenes of iMirror doubles the speculative aspect of the signified city by offering development opportunities in RMB. These are offered at rates analogous to those in Beijing, but translated into the fractional currency of Linden Dollars. At Art Basel, Cao Fei sold a building unit in RMB, taking her exploration of the impact of the virtual upon the real, and then linking it to very real references to real estate, in contrast to Babeli’s “object-oriented” practice. This is more in line with Bourriaud’s model than Babeli, albeit slightly, but this also highlights the different perspectives through which artists are shaping relational spaces in virtual worlds.
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