Thursday, October 16, 2008

Cao Fei & RMB City


Masterpieces of the universe
Source: FT.com - The Financial Times
October 11 2008

"This month Cao Fei, one of China’s most lauded young artists, will open a city in the online virtual world Second Life. Its 10 leased buildings may be constructed from zeros and ones rather than concrete and steel but their prices are very real: they range from $80,000 to $200,000.

A fast-paced, pulsating vision, “RMB City”, condenses contemporary urban China into an amalgam of symbols and icons, from shiny new skyscrapers to the much-loved panda.

“The project comments on the current hyperactive pace of Chinese real estate development and urbanism, so it is fitting that the spaces of the city follow the market system conceptually,” Cao says.

Buildings are being leased to collectors and institutions with the expectation that buyers will programme events and activities in them. “As ‘RMB City’ is a huge art project in Second Life, it takes much funding,” she continues. “We had to find a way to realise it, so we decided to sell to collectors and institutions.”

After opening a sales office at the Art Basel Miami Beach art fair last year, Cao – whose Second Life avatar is called China Tracy – transformed New York gallery Lombard-Freid Projects into a real-estate showroom. According to gallery partner Lea Freid, all the photographs exhibited were sold and all the promotional videos (in editions of 10) have been placed in major collections, among them New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center and the Louis Vuitton collection. The project is now on display at the Serpentine Gallery in London.

“RMB City” is an example of the new collectability of internet-based art. Whereas web artists once worked outside, and even in opposition to, the art establishment, artists today make their internet-based pieces into objects that can be sold in galleries and displayed in museums and homes. Cao, for example, has sold photographic and video documentation of “RMB City”, as well as opportunities to participate in the project.

“’RMB City’ is a new model for communication between collectors and artists in the virtual world,” says Guo Xiaoyan, chief curator of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing. The Ullens Foundation has bought access to a building in the virtual city, and will host events in the structure for the duration of the project, until 2010. City-wide, Freid says, activities will run the “gamut of arts and cultural disciplines, from poetry readings to lectures to visual art displays”, rendering the city a 24-hour culture centre.

Cao Fei isn’t alone; more than 1,000 galleries exist in Second Life and many artists are using the online community to create art. Eva and Franco Mattes make portraits (at $10,000 a piece) of the avatars, or digital surrogates, that people create to participate in Second Life. They’ve also re-enacted, again in Second Life, a series of historical performance art pieces, including Vito Acconci’s “Seedbed” and Marina Abramovic and Ulay’s “Imponderabilia”. Another duo, eteam – artists Franziska Lamprecht and Hajoe Moderegger – have maintained a public rubbish skip in Second Life for the last year, documenting the project with still images and text....."

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