RMB shovels and helmets in The New York Times

the shop, located in a basement-level storefront of the Beijing CBD area was finally spotted by the New York Times. Our cute RMB shovels and helmets showed their faces ..

Link of the report:


 Here is the full report.



Store Review: The Shop in Beijing

Published: March 15, 2009

Is China’s red-hot contemporary art market finally cooling its jets? That hardly seems to matter if a seven-figure Yue Minjun or Zhang Xiaogang was never in your budget.

But for those whose predilection for experimental Chinese art has always exceeded the depths of their pocketbooks, there’s the Shop, which opened last November in the Jianwai SOHO office and retail complex in Beijing.

Not quite a store, not quite a gallery, not quite a think tank — yet somehow all of the above — the concept-heavy outlet is a project of Vitamin Creative Space, an alternative-art center founded in Guangzhou in 2002. Occupying a basement-level storefront and outfitted with blocky, tiled benches evoking a giant Tetris game, it was conceived as a “situation for understanding the relationship between art practice and daily practice,” said Hu Fang, who co-founded Vitamin with Zhang Wei, a fellow critic-curator.

What that means to the casual collector is a rotating selection of objects tied to Vitamin’s programs. So if you missed the curator Hans Ulrich Obrist’s New Year’s Eve “interview marathon” with the likes of the architect Ma Yansong and the artist Cao Fei, you could still buy the Zaha Hadid-esque fish tank that Mr. Ma brought for the event (25,000 yuan, about $3,570 at 7 yuan to the dollar) and shovels and signed helmets (1,500 yuan and 300 yuan), above, from the “ground-breaking” of Ms. Cao’s virtual RMB City project on

To be sure, it’s not standard gift-shop fare. But “while people might get confused,” Mr. Hu said, “we think they’ll get used to it and want to come back again.”

The Shop, B1-1503, Building 15, Jianwai SOHO, 39 East Third Ring Road, Chaoyang District; (86-10) 5900-4374;

Blog — Ume Freiman, March 17, 2009 @ 12:25 am

RMB City ‘s AD in the second life



RMB City Opeing AD in CHINA TOWN


Our first life is aleady full of commecial info, you can barely get way from them even you 

don’t want them at all. You might encounter with them in an elevator, in a cab or whatever

place you can image.. For me, secondlife is also a visual leading world at least for now,everything

is visual,so why not placing our AD board in other islands or sims,we do things the same in our first 

life, i mean, why not? 

Again,Ranking systerm is another systerm for our modern people.

we choose best seller for books/CDs/Films..ect. You don’t even to have 

a second thought,so, just believe it!

Just a reminder ,RMB CIty is in the 3rd 

place of Seconldlife SEARCH-SHOWCASE:-)






Blog — Ume Freiman, January 15, 2009 @ 2:09 am

Dream Umbrellas 01

01-Smiling Sands

My dream umbrella would be black
– it would contain TIME- Roman Numerals
– numbers would issue from it
– I would travel through time when I flew with it

Their would be old clock faces on the outside of the umbrella

and ideally the umbrella would tick tock like an old grandfather clock


Blog — Ume Freiman, December 16, 2008 @ 11:28 pm

A letter back to Mianmian

Letters always connect people in some way.One of Mianmian’s love letter recipient decided to write back to Mian Mian and thank her directly for the letter..

Dear Mianmian,

Thank you for your letter which I enjoyed very much. It’s good to hear
from you.

How did you guess I was not where I was expected to be? And my eyes
never closed to sleep. Well, they closed once or thrice, but not for
rest. I’ve met a boy, a french boy, ten years younger than me. He’s
mature for his age, as I am young for mine. He is an incredible lover.
Funnily, we’ve both worked for the porn industry – he as a graphic
designer, me as an art director for a magazine. But music is how we
connected. We locked eyes at Strangeways – beneath spinning lights and
deep hearty bass – he was cold and needed a blanket. I warmed him from
his toes to his belly to his mouth. He wrapped his scarf around my
neck and pulled me towards him. My eyes closed….and so it began.

But you, Mianmian, where did you sleep last night? I’d like to know.


Blog — Ume Freiman, @ 10:40 pm

RMB City: NO LAB, New Orleans Biennale Preview Day 1

Today is the preview day for the NO venue, as Avatrian-our building team is busy building the People’s Palace

in a distance, many visitors came to the No venue including RMB City’s freinds Hamlet Au, Zafka Zimminy…

Blog — Ume Freiman, October 30, 2008 @ 2:46 am

Unexpected ‘visitors’ in RMB City

While there are ‘limitations’ in RL, mostly they are invisible. You might sometimes want to ignore them or want to try and see if you can get away from them, and of course, you’ll ‘get caught’. Like i always wanted to skip classes when I was a student; that means I always had bad results from my classes.

In SL, limitations are limitations. If you are not permited to enter certain sims, you just can’t. There are actully red lines to tell you that. Right now most part of RMB City has not open to public yet, but we always have unexpected ‘intruders’ in the People’s Water Park and People’s Observation Wheel. As you can see from the snapshot, this area is high above the RMB City sims, and here, you don’t have the right to limit others from flying over it– though they cannot land.

Blog — Ume Freiman, October 23, 2008 @ 3:36 am

Underwater communities, aesthetics of a “storm” and its practice in virtual worlds

Longtime friend of RMB City Zhang Anding (SL: Zafka Zimminy, formerly Zafka Ziemia) recently mentioned the upcoming “NO LAB in RMB City” project in his “Parallel Worlds” column for Urban China magazine. In his article, he discusses the issues of disaster and collective memory in virtual worlds, and also analyzes an underwater community in HiPiHi. Excerpt in Chinese and English below:

“The ability of 3D virtual world to manipulate time and space as a whole, far exceeding the 2D world. It provide a new meaning for the projection of human being’s collective memory  and the  collective cognitive.

Cao Fei’s Virtual New Orleans, mixed the logic of natural disaster and the logic of political and economic

together. Using such a way of public assembly, to re-awareness and reflect on the relatinonship between the environment and human behavior.” (Read the whole essay in the new issue of Urban China)



水下社区,风暴美学与虚拟世界再实践—-文  / 张安定(Zafka)



Blog — Ume Freiman, October 22, 2008 @ 11:42 pm

RMB City Construction Report

RMB City is under intensive construction now, here, from the city plan images and city live images from SL,

lets feel the forming of your city.

Blog — Ume Freiman, October 17, 2008 @ 11:15 pm

RMB City at Frieze Art Fair (London, UK)

As part of the preview of Vitamin Creative Space‘s ‘the shop’, opening in Beijing this November, four of RMB City’s construction videos are now showing at Frieze Art Fair.

“a better life: the shop for Frieze Art Fair 2008” Wednesday October 15-Sunday October 19

Featuring: Cao Fei (SL: China Tracy): Media Center of RMB City and RMB City Construction Video Program

Stand F26, Frieze Art Fair, Regent’s Park London

Blog,News,RL Events — Ume Freiman, @ 10:41 pm

Yokohama Triennale 2008: Cao Fei, Tokyo Art Beat

Yohohama Triennale 2008: Cao Fei

Tokyo Art Beat, October 1st , 2008

by Rebecca Milner

Venturing into the virtual spaces of Second Life, the Chinese artist invites you to “Play with your Triennale”. On the second floor of the Red Brick Warehouse, I made my first trip into Second Life. It almost didn’t happen; I was doubling back around looking for the Cao Fei exhibit when I spotted the entryway. Being familiar with some of the Chinese artist’s other work, particularly her photographs and videos that chronicle China’s youthful diversions (their adoption of cosplay and hip hop dance for example), I did not immediately recognize the computer terminal as her piece. To be honest, I thought it was one of those information portals that are commonplace in museums, train stations, and tourist areas these days.

Cao Fei’s piece is titled Play with your Triennale and it takes place in a Second Life space created by the artist known as RMB City. This virtual city (RMB is the Chinese national currency) is a project – over a year in the making – that endeavors to facilitate a public space for creation, construction, and discourse on the current and future state of the real and the imagined. Yet one with a noticeably Chinese slant: areas are given names such as “People’s Neo Village,” “People’s Slum”, and “People’s Love Center” and visitors will recognize distinct sights like the Three Gorges reservoir, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, and the Olympic “Bird’s Nest” stadium, though patched together as per the artist and her team’s surreal vision.

For the Triennale, the artist created a designated area in the “People’s Worksite” designed for audience participation and play. Here visitors can explore a space resembling a Chinese construction zone, detailed down to the makeshift bunks, and chat with the artist herself and the curators for the event in avatar form. As it looked at the opening preview the work site wasn’t much more than a field of dirt, a nice wide open space where one could practice trying out the controls, although there is a briefly amusing video embedded of the animated curators doing YMCA karaoke. But it is just that, a work site, in development. RMB City doesn’t officially open to the public until later in October, so what early visitors to the Yokohama exhibition have been treated to is essentially a preview, as well as the chance to become involved themselves. As the event progresses Cao Fei plans to fill in the rough space with select audience generated “Yokohama Dream Proposals.”

Any visitor from the general public is free to muse on this idea of having a hand in shaping a world where technically anything is possible. Technically, but not actually, and here in lies the catch: RMB City offers the freedom to imagine but it is not anarchy, the artist ultimately selects which projects are realized. Likewise, citizenship in the city is not to be taken lightly, as the “City Hall” requires a commitment in the form of a pledge of allegiance from avatars to RMB City. A dictatorship of sorts yes, but fair enough, she did make it and as the project advances and grows it will be interesting to see just what kind of ruler an artist overseeing a virtual community turns out to be.

Over time, Cao Fei intends to collaborate with real world art institutions and individuals around the globe, bringing in like-minded entities to develop in the city as per their own vision. Beijing’s Ullens Center for Contemporary Art already has a building and another is in the works for the influential Swiss collector of contemporary Chinese art Uli Sigg. Buildings, however, are reported to cost around $100,000.

This is not RMB City’s first appearance at a large-scale art exhibition. The project made its debut at the 10th Istanbul Biennale in September of last year and held a “virtual real estate sale” at Art Basel Miami Beach that December. Nor is access limited to the art world, if you have a high-speed Internet connection, a sophisticated enough computer, and a Second Life login (free), you can visit RMB City anytime from any part of the world. Videos of the project’s development have even been posted on YouTube.

Considering the Triennale’s theme of ‘Time Crevasse,” which seeks among other things to examine the simultaneity and multiplicity of time and space and, through an emphasis on live performance, the singularity of the artistic moment, Play with your Triennale makes a striking contribution by bringing in the virtual world, along with universal themes like urbanization and identity, to the discussion table. Never mind that the majority of the art establishment may not know what to make of it: navigating Second Life requires a set of skills not found in an art history textbook.

RMB City also takes a rare, enthusiastic stand on the influence/invasion of technology in contemporary society, showing just what potential it holds. If the title Play with your Triennale is being at all facetious then it is more than likely poking fun at the solid, staid institution of the triennale itself. Although in many ways the goals of Yokohama and RMB City are similar: to brand a space as a global art capital and attract the requisite international collection of artists, curators, critics, and fans to demonstrate its relevance. Play with your Triennale however, by not only imploring audience participation but also by hanging its very outcome on that contribution, makes itself measurably vulnerable to viewer caprices, and that, despite the slick digital veneer, wields a certain fragile beauty of its own.

Press — Ume Freiman, October 14, 2008 @ 2:04 am

The Making Of Hu Fang

Blog — Tags: — Ume Freiman, September 23, 2008 @ 2:42 am

Here Comes Metaverse: A New Existential Manifesto, Urban China

Here Comes Metaverse: a New Existential Manifesto

Urban China

Text by Zafka

Fourteen years ago, Neal Stephenson, one of the pioneers of cyberpunk novelists, depicted a virtual world paralleled to modern metropolises in Snow Crash: “……the Broadway, the Champs-Elysees……It does not really exist. But right now, millions of people are walking up and down it.” In it, people exist and communicate as “avatars”, who can present themselves as anything they want. The name that Stephenson gave to this brave new world is “metaverse”—a coinage which is sometimes translated as “fairy land”.

More recently, The Matrix struck many of us with shocking imagery of individuals evolved into pieces of code in the gigantic matrix of computers, visualizing a dream-like fusion of the real and the virtual which points to our innermost anxiety and confusion. Now, such a world is ever closer than before, and the pleasure of being a part of it is written on the faces of millions of early adopters all over the world.

The grassroots logic of Utopia

Known as “Second Life” ( in the United States, this 3D virtual online world has a tag line of “Your World. Your Imagination.” With a not-too-steep learning curve, the “residents” of this world imagine, create and own every single object in this new universe. In China, a similar world is called “HiPiHi” ( It has a similar tag line: “The World Exists Because of You.” Started as two separate products, spiritual-wise they are twin brothers, both inherit the hippies’ value of freedom, equity and dream, as well as the very core spirit of the internet.

Virtual worlds like these are getting embedded into the real world in a revolutionary way. Through the action of creating-trading-socializing, their residents (as avatars) are not only replicating the historical development of our real world, but also revitalizing a number of classic topics in the human history, such as property rights and innovation, prosperity and surveillance, rights and order. Currently, three-million Second Life residents are trading stuff worthy of more than one million US dollar every day. They also write all kinds of programs, spending a year or even more time to stage a ballet with their avatars, creating rain forest on desert, or building grand, entwined castles.

As the spiritual descendants of ’60s hippies, geeks have long been waiting for such a world. But for many years, small-scale 3D virtual world was a domain for specialists, with application scattering in fields such as architecture, military and computer game. Time is now ripe for “virtopia”-Virtual Utopia-to thrive, which represents the notion of grassroots in two senses: the democratization of hardware and fundamental technologies (large-storage hard drive, high-speed CPU, video card with memory of its own, broadband connection, virtual reality technologies such as 3D graphic), and the triumph of a kind of grassroots production mode: everyone is the creator of the new world.

There is no need for pre-plotting here. Residents of this world are creating and socializing every minute, thus also auto-writing the most memorable history. Xu Hui, the CEO of HiPiHi, said that system of user creation in the 3D virtual world is going to be the driving force for mankind’s future prosperity, just as James Watt’s steam engine was for the Industrial Revolution. When people spend half of their time trading, entertaining and socializing in this new world, the distinction of virtual and real becomes blurry.

The 3D online worlds also provide the context for the ongoing new round of internet explosion (after its birth ten years ago)-the reshuffling of information and the redefining of the ways people socialize (read: web 2.0). Virtual online world reminds us what kind of dream each content-creating netizen could have, and how they are going to concretize their manifestos of “We are the Web”, “Net is the computer”. After all, in their effort to enable information to flow across time and space, people working in the domain of information technology somehow forgot the fact that it’s “I” that matters, technology is always people-centered.

Deep experience and the new social platform

Throughout history, people have always tried to overcome the limitation of space-time continuum with all kinds of new technologies. Space and time are the critical elements that define the state of human survival and self-perception. The advent of metaverse shows us the wonderful prospect of building a brand new platform of human communication based on individual deep experience.

For thousands of years, the writing system provided the rational basis of knowledge construction and the infrastructure of our intellectual communication. Nevertheless, it has also suffocated our symbol- and sense-based audio-visual faculties which is as important to intellectual presentation. The 20th century saw the “historic revenge” of audio-visual culture. By integrating human beings’ writing, speaking, seeing and listening modes into one single interactive networking system, the internet recombined the various dimensions of the human mind and soul, thus changing the way in which we experience and re-organize the world.

The 2D internet, however, remains a world of text and picture. Human communication, on the other hand, is not only text- and language-based, it also relies on visible body gesture, spatial environment, and their attached cultural implications. With 3D technologies, a channel to the virtual world and inter-spatial / temporal communication is now made available.

Both Second Life and HiPiHi emphasize the concept of “in-world”, i.e., the reconstruction of “the world”. After all, having 3D clones or even modified forms of real-world architectural spaces and natural environments on the internet has managed to visualize the once text- and image-based cyberspace to an extreme extent. On the other hand, by extending themselves into the virtual world as avatars, users gain a new form of existence as well as a richer and more delicate socializing experience.

One simple fact exemplifies the profoundness of this augmentation of experience. On the 2D internet, the psychological distance between two users depends on text or language, while in the 3D world, it takes nothing more than single turning back. This is because as the carbon copy of reality, virtual worlds are no longer distinguishable with the real ones.

Also, the fact that Second Life and HiPiHi gave birth to not only a new virtual world, but also an unprecedented deep experience for individual, grants them the potential to be the new generation of internet and a brand new platform for inter-spatial / temporal communication and collaboration.

Such a highly-visualized platform promises not only the possibility of new business model, but also the opportunity for human dreams and practices such as political experiment. At this moment, those who keep creating and trading after the initial excitement are already the business pioneers in the new world. Powerful real-world business entities such as IBM have jumped on the bandwagon and secured their presence in it too. So did various governments and educational institutions. The discussion on the prospect of this new platform being applied to real problems has already begun.

This new world is now going through all the glories and prosperity of the 2D internet. In the digital world, code is power. In order to maintain that prosperity, Linden Lab, the creator of Second Life, is planning to make the source code of their client and server software freely available to everyone.

The virtual subverting the real

Marshall McLuhan said that media are the extension of the human body. But the body extension and internet recreation in the metaverse will be revolutionary. A “world” where the real and the virtual are connected seamlessly is going to update our knowledge system of body and ourselves, as well as some of the core topics about the digital universe such as social space and communication.

This could be a new manifesto about our existence. In the virtual world, people reproduce their bodies. Organs, hairstyle, tattoo, clothes and every single inch of skin are recreated—a newborn body which provides the subject the most powerful capability in the metaverse: complete realness and endless possibilities of variations. As for the real and physical body and the various cultural and historical tokens about body, the mobility and opposition have found new manifestation through 3D avatar. Philosophical concepts such as body, identity and identification have become much more relevant as well as complicated than in the text-based BBS days, when users are represented simply by an ID.

A related topic is the possibility to rewrite our knowledge system. Michel Foucault said that human science in the West was born when people began to think of themselves as an object of both imagination and perception. The foundation of modern state administration relies on “body politics” which revolve around discipline and punish. At this moment, it is impossible to know that, in the prime time of 3D virtual world, what kind of crucial interaction is going to happen between intentional social action and system of new technologies, and what kind of new concept of administration is going to emerge.

The possibilities of this new world don’t stop at that. Jurgen Haberma once said the development of modern media had destroyed traditional public sphere-the real spaces in which people get together to have rational discussions about public topics had vanished. Meanwhile, just as tap water pipes brought about by the process of urbanization have destroyed well-based countryside communities, urban fireplaces have lost their relevance because of the internet. Some of the most important components of traditional cities, such as civilian’s rights, public spaces and urban landscape are also going through profound changes.

But the drastic extension of the metaverse has the ability to reverse some of these facts. The rebuilt virtual body lives in a rebuilt virtual space. With more people getting involved, a new kind of visualized political, economical and social space is coming into shape. Currently in Second Life, the most important symbols of traditional public space-salon, cafe-are thriving, once again, people sit down around the fireplace to have conversation. Friends, relatives and groups return to the visible virtual space, quietly, they take a seat and talk. Although all these happen in the virtual world, the existence of 3D avatar and spaces has restored the sense of “being there”-the most important feeling of human communication, therefore providing a way back to the real-world psychological model and result of socialization.

With this kind of kinship to the real world, this virtopia has intensifying the existing problems of the internet. The issue now goes beyond the administration of the virtual. Apart from people claiming identity and sociopolitical rights and their need for sound public order and economical stability, real-world governments are now facing crime committed in the virtual world. Also, with the virtual economy getting more powerful, they begin to have an influence on our first-life economy.

“The virtual subverting the real” may be more than an far-fetched imagination. It might not take long before it re-tells the stories of reality into a complex version of The Matrix’s screenplay.


Virtual World Observer

Zafka is among the pioneers who initiated the study on virtual worlds in China. His in-depth analysis articles on virtual world such as Utopian Online, HiPiHi overturns the reality, the metaverse is coming: a new announcement about existentialism, were pressed on major domestic media and thereafter attract lots attention. So did his blog, which was the first blog in China that keeps watch on virtual world.

Press — Ume Freiman, September 10, 2008 @ 11:41 pm

“Play With Your Triennale” (Yokohama, Japan)

It’s very exciting that the Yokohama Triennale featuring RMB City will have its grand opening tomorrow. Please see the following announcement and postcard, and visit the Yokohama Triennale in SecondLife now!

“Play With Your Triennale”(Yokohama, Japan)

Cao Fei (SL: China Tracy) and RMB City at Yokohama Triennale

September 13-November 30, 2008 (Vernissage: 12 September)

Preview Day Yokohama Time: Sep 12th 10am-8pm ;Official Opening Party : Sep 12th 6pm-8pm .

Preview Day SL Time:Sep 11th, 6 pm-4 am ;the Official Opening Party : Sep 12th, 2 am-4 am.

During the Yokohama Triennale, RMB City will be used to realize the dream projects of the general public. In “Play With Your Triennale”, anyone and everyone is invited to submit an artistic project, and selected entries will be realized in the People’s Worksite during the Triennale period, along with a series of special events.

In keeping with the border-crossing spirit of RMB City, anyone worldwide can become an artist in the Triennale by contributing ideas, and also audiences anywhere can visit this virtual slice of the exhibition at any time.

Seeing through the video and timeline of RMB City, you may possible get more idea of what artist Cao Fei dedicates to build. Hope to see you in Yokohama.: )

Send your ideas by email to: (Subject: Yokohama Dream Proposal) before 10th, Oct. 2008 for possible realization in RMB City

Press inquiries:

For more information:

Landmark in Second Life: RMB City: People’s Worksite, RMB City 1 (221, 196, 21)

Events,News,RL Events,SL Events — Tags: — Ume Freiman, @ 4:34 pm

The Second Life of Cao Fei, RMB City Catalogue

The Second Life of Cao Fei

RMB City Catalogue, December, 2007

by Wagner James Au

In the summer of 2007, I met a renowned artist from the other side of the globe, and soon became fast friends. This was only made possible through a world that does not exist, through a person who does not exist. The place is called Second Life, the user-created 3D simulated world online; the person is an “avatar”, a word derived from the Sanskrit term for “godly incarnation”, but now the common reference for the alter ego you control, in an online game or an Internet-based world like Second Life. For the last five years, my job as a writer has been to cover SL as emerging society, with its own culture and conflicts, which often mirror our own in a more fantastic way. Because it exists on the Internet, the avatars of Second Life are owned by people from nearly all our physical nations. And because it’s depicted as a 3D space, the sensation you have inside it is being in a single world, shared by all these people, with a connection more tangible than e-mail or even phone. In Second Life, I’ve met and interviewed European scientists and American ministers, Japanese sex workers and Brazilian entrepreneurs, soldiers, peace activists, chefs, housewives, truck drivers, business executives, severely handicapped people, TV personalities.

And in May, I met China Tracy, a young woman with platinum hair dressed in a suit of armor.

Meeting Fei… through China

I first glimpsed China Tracy on a YouTube stream, a startlingly vivid avatar introducing herself in a machinima with Chinese subtitles. A new medium which converts 3D graphics from a video game into animation, machinima is still mostly the province of gamers creating in-joke videos for each other. But something about this Second Life avatar named China Tracy struck me. At the time, I had no idea who she was, but in subsequent months, learned she was an accomplished multimedia artist, creator of i.Mirror, a beautiful, three-part machinima of the Second Life experience– and as such, perhaps the most world-renowned artist thus far to use SL as a medium. (Then again, it would have hit me earlier, had I looked more closely at the latest issue of the July 2007 Atlantic Monthly sitting on my coffee table, which described her as “one of several innovative young artists to come out of the Pearl River Delta… her photographs, videos, installations, and theater productions reflect the region’s manic development and its youth culture, heavily influenced by Japanese manga and ‘cosplay’, dressing up as anime and manga characters.” ) China Tracy was in California to visit the Lindens, meet another SL Resident with a fascinating history, and luckily enough, chat with me over drinks at the Hotel Utah, a storied San Francisco bar. It was what Second Life members call a “mixed reality event”, avatars coming together as the real people behind them.

And so I learned: China Tracy is Cao Fei, a Guangzhou artist who’s “a key member of the vibrant new generation of Chinese artists emerging in the early twenty-first century” (by Art Forum’s lights), and has been featured by the New York MOMA, among an intimidating roster of showings at galleries, museums, and biennials across the globe. Highlights in her portfolio include the insanely delightful Hip Hop (everyday Chinese get down with African-American freshness) and the virally acclaimed Cosplayers (playing videogame superheroes in a post-industrial cityscape where the demand for grand gestures no longer exists.)

Earlier this year, Cao discovered Second Life, and embarked on a six month tour of Second Life, where all the usual activities accrued: “Fly, chat, build, teleport, buy, sex, add friends, snapshot…” (Yes, she even tried virtual sex, though a prospective lover misplaced his equipment at the worst possible moment.) All the while, she captured video of her experiences, which went into i.Mirror, a sad, dreamy, but ultimately optimistic thirty minute epic in three parts which first aired at the Venice Biennial. (It was later acquired for the collection of a renowned Italian fashion designer.)

Through the i .Mirror

As a movie, you may see the influence of Wong Kar-Wai and Wim Wenders in i.Mirror, among other world class directors. Nearly a half hour in total length, it plays out in three separate but thematically-related parts. Part I is an introductory montage to Second Life, and it lingers on both the beauty and the excesses of virtual capitalism that also make the metaverse a consumerist sprawl.

Part II is largely a love story with a plot twist that won’t surprise longtime Second Life users (or for that matter, anyone else who’s developed a crush online), though it’s lovely for it all the same. Part III is my personal favorite– it features a distanced but humane montage of avatars, diverse in all their characteristics and interests. It reminds me of a closing section of Godfrey Reggio’s classic Koyaanisqatsi, but with less irony, and more warmth. Overall, i. Mirror complements Douglas Gayeton’s My Second Life, a short SL machinima recently acquired by HBO, and it’s fascinating to see established filmmakers approach Second Life as a medium and a subject– both excited by its transformative potential, while just as wary that it’ll change us in fundamental ways, not all of them positive. (Or in China Tracy’s case, that it won’t transform us enough.)

Where I assumed that Part II’s romantic encounter with a handsome young man was scripted, Cao told me it was all shot quasi-documentary style, like the entirety of i.Mirror. In-world, she simply captured video as she interacted. (“Part real, part role playing”, as I remember her describing the aesthetic approach.) So she really did meet her future SL swain playing the piano, and went on to form a virtual relationship with genuine feelings.

As it turned out, in real life he’s a man in his 60s (as Cao’s movie reveals), a member of the American far left in the 60s (which the movie doesn’t mention.) He it was who Cao met in person on her trip to Northern California, bringing together two of the unlikelier people to form a friendship, but for the metaverse, typical: an elderly Marxist living in the capitalist US, and a young woman from formerly Communist, now hyper-capitalist China.

“I don’t know more about SL’s promise,” Cao writes, just prior to her San Francisco visit. ” For me, SL is a new world, but it’s still surrounded by a old world system, it parallels and mirrors our RL. They’re not what they originally are, and yet they remain unchanged. I’m not criticizing the Second Life world, because this world is created by us (international citizens). Whether RL or SL, everywhere is full of consumerism/expansionism. SL is artificial/digital landscape, but totally human nature is behind that, you can see so real we are. But on the reality’s end of this combined ultra-space, there is still love for simplicity and the pursuit of freedom, creativity and imagination, and only these possibilities me me treasure this SL world.”

You say you want a revolution? “Not at all. SL should be what it should be,” Cao tells me. “SL is a lab, a world lab, but it consists in a huge global economic systems. It bring us business and democracy, at the same time with feelings and culture. We can’t avoid capitalism’s wave; at the same time, we can’t avoid Communist aspirations in our heart. This world is not only dualistic, we’re inconsistent. Communism is our Utopia, Second Life is our E-topia… SL is our mirror, it tells us the truth.”

Building RMB City

True to her word, China Tracy has remained an active Resident of SL, and is planning a new Second Life-based art project, launched on Creative Commons’ Kula island: RMB City, named after China’s money, a fantastic, funhouse rendition of modern Beijing, with Tiananmen Square turned into a swimming pool and a giant panda dangling from a crane.

In China, RMB is the abbreviation of “renminbi”, literally, “people’s money”, and the name of the currency you use in that country. She’s built an early, “under construction” version of RMB City in Second Life’s island of Kula and showed a version of it at the more recent Istanbul Biennale. It will be reworking of Beijing into a fantastic, dreamlike version of the city as it is, churning with new and old icons. Given its subversive imagery (a Mao statue bobs half submerged under water), the irony is it could probably never be shown in China-and so, it will have to remain in the virtual realm, a 3D figment of our imagination.

Wagner James Au

The author of the Second Life blog New World Notes ( and The Making of Second Life from HarperCollins.

Press — Ume Freiman, December 10, 2007 @ 11:33 pm

The Weight of the Unbearable Lightness in Reality, a Skype Conversation between Hu Fang and Jiang Jun

A Conversation on Skype about RMB City Between Jiang Jun and Hu Fang

( From 11:30:36 pm to 0:42:14 am, Oct 29-30, 2007 )

Jiang Jun: The chief editor of Urban China magazine;

Hu Fang: The artistic director of Vitamin Creative Space.

Jiang Jun: JJ, Hu Fang: HF.

HF: RMB City is a new city built in Second Life by Cao Fei (as China Tracy). It is a spatial mosaic of the presence and the future of China. What do you think about this hybrid? Is this hybrid development the reflection of urban development in China?

JJ: The hybrid mode, or to be more precise, the combination of international fad and Chinese characteristics in the specific context of the present China, is indeed inevitable during the transformation of China. RMB City is not necessarily a replication of it though.

HF: Indeed, it’s rather the reflection of the artist’s individual experiences, a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek creation. What’s interesting is that a “China Town” gets implanted into Second Life.

JJ: When we observe the urbanization of China and go deeper beyond its surrealist moments and absurdity on the superficial level, we’ll see the causes of them.

HF: Right, the urbanization of China is not without a bit of surrealism, yet it’s being supported by a kind of adaptive and flexible survival wisdom, it’s a growing spectacle. What’s your view on the “index”, so to speak, of the social spaces in China as presented by RMB City?

JJ: There are two aspects that I find interesting: how a reality controlled by powerful order and state apparatus managed to produce a kind of hyper-reality which seemingly loses control; and the way in which virtual reality simulates reality on a more profound level.

HF: The virtual reality has become the entry to the new space of Second Life, there’s a kind of parallel development, “Parallel Universe” maybe?

JJ: Second Life is a product that has deep implications, it’s the inevitable consequence of virtual space and the internet. And RMB City is the inevitable consequence of Second Life, which does a wonderful job in simulating reality logically. RMB City is really a subset of Second Life.

JJ: I’m sure there are a lot in the virtual space that run parallel to reality, and they are not necessarily space- or visibility-dependent.

JJ: Rather, those parallel factors depend on some of the fundamental “universal equivalents”, such as power structure, capital, social network, etc.

HF: Second Life is precisely a way back to reality, it depends on the re-understanding of both capital and reality, in the end, capital gets new space of circulation, and people get new way of communication.

HF: The title of RMB City (RMB is the abbreviation of “renminbi”,literally,”people’s money in Chinese) implicates that the energy of Second Life goes beyond simple replantation of simulacra, it also has something to do with the fact that the way in which capital runs and people socialize has fundamentally changed.

HF: Social network has also become a way that capital adds value to itself.

JJ: Second Life can be considered a mainstream product, in that it employs visualized image and spatial language, which, when combined with 2.0 technologies, triggered changes of the social relation in the virtual world.

JJ: However, virtual societies are not going to generate new relationship between different classes. The on-going “initial development” of virtual land represents a kind of rather primitive social relationship.

HF: It’s probably not as complex as in the real world, but it certainly adds to one’s experience. As “soft capital”, experience can be cashed in real life. To me, what’s interesting in the process is a new scheme for urban development proposed by the artist, who has  created necessary condition in which the scheme can be realized. What’s important is the possibility to co-develop within that condition, and how one can mediate the development of this city.

HF: And this development doesn’t necessarily lead to anything, it could be a nihilist process, leaving behind experiences and documents.

JJ: Here’s the difference: though primitive, a virtual society can always be rebooted, it’s “undoable”. Those can’t be undone are without exception reality-related, which is to say, they rely on the weight of reality.

HF: In reality we would talk about certain urban developments as disasters, while in Second Life, everything is still a game, a “second life of unbearable lightness”—despite the fact that the currency circulated within Second Life can be converted to US dollar.

JJ: So there is indeed a sense of luckiness or disaster when you do that conversion, because at that moment, you are hooked up with reality.

JJ: Disaster is also a complex concept which gets simplified in most of the games.

JJ: Currently there isn’t any disaster in RMB City, because there is no conflict between different classes and interest groups.

HF: Very interesting. Also, because of the complexity of real life, people have been seeking an imaginary space with “common sensibility” where they can communicate and develop. However, it’s the necessary contradiction and conflict that bring life to real-life cities.

JJ: For developers, the first priority is how to develop this piece of land or this city, especially after the first phase of construction is finished. I think the potential will be fully explored when more non-artist netizens become fascinated and engaged with the “new city”.

HF: This is exactly what we are looking forward to.

HF: RMB City is the individual creation of an artist, we are curious to see how and to what extent it’s going to evolve into a new space for communication and development, whether it will aggregate the mind power of intellectuals from all walks of life. What would be your plan if Urban China is invited to do a project within a space in RMB City?

JJ: I think we will first make several proposals to optimize Second Life, and then build a city within to exemplify them.

HF: A city within a city.

HF: Do you think there’s gonna be a connection between the development of RMB City and the real-life cities?

JJ: Probably not. Even there’s gonna be superficial similarities, they would be fundamentally different; simply dreams of individuals.

JJ: Personally, I still believe that although art is exploring reality, the latter often surpasses the former in unbelievable ways in terms of speed, quality and weight.

HF: In a sense, the weight of reality is too much and too un-retraceable. On the other hand, art, as parasite, churns out suspended spaces continuously, which prompts us to reconsider the possibilities of spatial production. Interestingly, today any mode of spatial production will bring about new mode of economics.

JJ: The function of art is to creatively mimic reality, but nowadays multiple “self-mimicking” are made possible by information technology. In the future, artist would have to be the expert of a certain aspect in real life (from politician to hacker) in order to create art in a more profound way.

HF: Today, the power of artistic creation lies in the artist’s capability of domain-shifting, and the possibilities this shifting may generate. A real estate developer can be an artist, and vice versa.

JJ: Which means the ability to modify definitions and tacit rules.

HF: RMB City is exactly this kind of experiment which indicates the “domain-transition”, what we are seeing now is only the first step, the City will evolve along with the changing reality.

Press — Ume Freiman, October 10, 2007 @ 11:31 pm