Cao Fei’s RMB City
Brick-reduced recipes for Beijing’s future
by Jan Hauters, translated by Zhao Li
That’s Beijing, Feb 1st, 2009
When one puts a right hand onto The Chinese Dream—a bible-sized book on the urbanized east of China, apostled by Neville Mars and Adrian Hornsby—have a friend surrealistically utter “Do you swear to uphold the city and nothing but the city so help you Cao Fei? ”With this work in the right hand and a hand-held computer in the left, log-on the Internet and visit RMBcity.com.
－Intangible Architecture;Trans-local Museums
As a critical dweller of the Beijing metropolis one might begin to fathom what our city’s future might hold. that’s Beijing ventured out and explored Cao Fei’s collaborative online virtual art zone; RMB City.
With the aid of various art-oriented institutions and individuals, Cao Fei has conceptualized a virtual metropolis dubbed RMB City. It is set in the online construction named Second Life (SL); a virtual world. RMB City promotes artistic events and is an extension of China’s urbanized east. Fair to say, the city is a hybrid of Beijing, of Chinese cultural memes and any one metropolitan setting from around the globe.
The artist elaborated that it is an experimental art project initiated by individual artists and that it “takes virtual cities as units.”
－Real public Space in Virtual Worlds
Those readers who are unfamiliar with the overall concept of online worlds might want to visit secondlife.com. Through that world’s market places it has an actual economy and real profits for its users, overall ranging into millions of tangible dollars. RMB City’s PR introduces its surrounding realm clearly, “SL was conceived as an online platform for participants to create a parallel reality in which 14 million people worldwide have registered since it launched in 2003.” Each user is represented by an ‘avatar’—a customizable and movable digital figurine within virtual reality graphics.
When asked about her choice of an international virtual world rather than a domestic one, Cao Fei presents a few seemingly contradicting yet undeniable facts:“Chinese players account for 5% of the SL’s total population. SL is not very popular in China, as it is a society communicating in English. Still, there are also many Chinese organizations stationed in it.”
－A Tale of Binary Cities
The domestic counterpart of SL, Hipihi (hipihi.com), is still in its initial stage and groping its way. According to our interviewee it is still not creative and forward-looking. “More importantly,“ she said,“current [domestic] laws on online worlds are clamping down the virtual financial opportunities. [The international world,] SL, is a free-market economy and has been researched and developed for many years.”
“The birth of this new pan-internationalism,” this artist-visionary points out,“influences our understanding of ‘nation’or ‘region’.” She continues by underlining that “the realities of the geopolitical conflicts have been evolved into confrontations among international virtual communities and inter-cities with different concepts.”
－Cao Fei’s Virtual Roots
This revered video and New Media artist—who claims not to be an Internet nor Multimedia artist—explains that she got in touch with SL through Zhang Anding’s blog and articles:“his articles on the virtual economy, published in the 21st Century Economic Observer, awakened my curiosity about this un•known world.” Under the username ‘China Tracy’, Cao Fei has had a SL avatar since early 2007.
When asked what her motivations are, Cao shares that the project prompts her with a clear understanding of her own ‘World’in a broader sense.The artist continues by saying,“RMB City enables me to find out the possibility of a new cultural frame or a new future among the inter-conversion between the two worlds [the online vs. offline world].”
Cao Fei introduces her avatar-self, ‘China Tracy’, as “an etension of touch and feeling, a resident braving adventure in the virtual world and a mirror image.” Cao assures, “she is younger, closer to perfection, with an ever-young appearance, energetic and approachable.”
－The Hunted City, Free as Game
When asked to summarize RMB City, Cao Fei sets off in a po•etic mantra style: “ It’s an E-topian City / E-colony City / Non-plan City / Customized City / Mobile City / Post-Sedentary City / Sampling City / Superficial City / Buffer City / Drama City.”
While Beijing tries to catch a breath she continues that RMB City’s a place for:“Multicultural Exchange / Public Interaction and Dialogue / Experimental Projects / Art and Technology / OpenSource Art / Future-Architecture / Digit-Urban Explora•tion / Digit-Field Investigation / Virtual Community Building / E-Citizen Autonomy;” leaving us gasping in reflection.
The City’s TV Channel.
Glimpses of the binary urbanization Cao Fei spearheads can be caught on Youtube. A digital virtual TV channel, “RMBCity-Hall Channel,” is provided for those interested in specific docu•mentaries on the events unfolding within the city. Of course, the channel is also attractive to media users who are inhib•ited to jump onto the virtual-world wagon. Gazes can be jetted through Youtube’s looking glass into this specific Second Life’s urban culture. (youtube.com/user/RMBCityHall). One of its lat•est ‘airings’ takes you on a first-person (as if you held the virtual camera) tour of “Christian Dior & Chinese Artists.” This project is in collaboration with 798’s Ullens Center for Contemporary Arts—opening its futuristic virtual museum space in RMB City.