The artist I found compelling during class lectures was Cao Fei. Born in Guangzhou, China around the time of China’s reform, Cao Fei experienced the opening up of China’s policy and the cusp of greater access to the outside world. She earned her BFA from the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts. Her work often deals with the fluidity of bodies and realities, as the multiplicity of identities exist throughout a variety of platforms. Through photographs, videos, and installations, she touches on the idea of virtual realities and how they parallel the real world, and vice versa.
The Body At Stake: Experiments in Chinese Contemporary Art and Theatre by Jörg Huber and Zhao Chuan features an interview with Cao Fei and documentation of some of her photos. In the interview, she discusses her approach to the ideas surrounding ‘body’ and ‘reality’. In her preteen years, she had developed an extensive interest in western culture, especially the element of physical participation and performance that resided in pop music, break dancing, and MTV. Perhaps it was her experimentation in dance and going behind her parents’ backs to act like someone else that sparked her ongoing theme of identities within realities. She states that after experiencing the game Second Life for the first time in late 2006, she came up with the concept for the character China Tracy for i.Mirror.
She offers the notion that within virtual worlds, avatars are merely shells without consciousness. It is entirely dependent on the gamer to instill the character with a sense of existence and form. It can be seen in her Cosplayer Series that she not only activates the character by adding consciousness and personality, but she also brings these characters into the real world. I found this point to be interesting as she also mentions that despite playing a different role or exploring a reality that may not be possible in this current reality, no one is able to escape Foucault’s Panopticon Prison. Cao Fei’s employment of virtual realities creates some sort of dissonance for me as I tend to think of other realities as escapes from current realities. However, the way she incorporates the different levels of reality alongside the translation of different but now same identities, pushes me to think about the interconnectivity as a whole.
In my own life, I am at constant battle with myself as I like to keep my various identities separate. However, at the end of the day, each identity is hosted by the same body and conscious. In a way, my separate identities are not so far from each other. Whether it is a different account on a different platform, or my physical self, or a character I play in game, or even a character I pull from a game and choose to physically play the character, I feel that because they are all parts of me that I can never truly “escape to a different reality”. If anything, this leads me to believe that our imagination and desires as well as our ability to endure and resist resemble a kind of response to existence and reality in general. There is a constant push and pull between “I wish I was” and “I don’t want to be here” that feeds into my own interest in stories, video games, and cosplaying. I think when you don’t consciously think or consider the fact that your escape is still apart of you, you are free to believe that you really are something else, somewhere else.