Cao Fei Fuses Ancient Tradition And Virtual Reality
Her #18 Art Car was premiered at Beijing’s Minsheng Art Museum, following previous collaborations with artists including Jenny Holzer, Esther Mahlangu and Matazo Kayama. As a warm welcome to Beijing and the BMW premiere event, we were invited to Fei’s studio alongside Director of the UCCA Gallery in Beijing Phil Tinari and Head of Cultural Engagement for BMW Thomas Girst. There, we were led on a private tour of the space, a former movie theater that is soon to be demolished, followed by a panel discussion about her work.
For her #18 Art Car, Fei employed an artistic approach that differed greatly from the work of previous collaborators, providing an innovative social commentary that merges tradition with the future. Fei has created Art Car’s first ever digital submission, maintaining the awareness and celebration of digitalisation often explored in her work.
Her project is comprised of three components that offer an interactive and visceral interpretation of a contemporary driving experience, whilst referencing ancient tradition. Alongside the BMW M6 GT3 race car in original carbon black, Fei has created an augmented reality app. This enables users to view colourful neon swirls dancing around the racing car, virtually simulating a traditional Asian ceremony in which a new car and driver are blessed with good luck. The third element created for #18 Art Car takes the form of a video entitled ‘Unmanned’, following the journey of a time-travelling spiritual practitioner. The piece was filmed in part with drones and uses CGI effects to depict the monk blessing the car and its future journeys.
This integration of ancient ritual and tradition is integral to Fei’s artistic practice. In our panel discussion, the artist explains that she has to “go to the ancient cultural relics to find inspiration – to find something new.” This study of tradition enables her to find new focuses for her research, providing an interesting context to fuse with the inspiration of “three decades of the rapid, booming development of Southern Chinese urbanisation.”
As the second generation of a sculptor family, Fei describes that she tended to observe the work of her father, going with him to “many revolutionary places in China.” Now, Fei recognises virtual reality as a means to express her thinking. Experiencing technological and cultural evolution has prompted the artist to celebrate the fusion of traditional and contemporary values.
Regarding the creation of her Art Car, Fei states that she set out to uncover “which attitudes and temperaments hold the key to opening the gateway to the new age.” Considering such advances, she recognises that “right now we are in the age of rapid technology involvement. We have to think about the impact of this technology.” Fei explains that she is “more interested in reality, and what the reality has brought to us,” but that “we have to also know that virtual reality has changed the way the reality work. We have to understand why technology has brought us those changes to reality.”