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Second Life as Mirror

By Rhizome

Several Chinese artists have been drawing the attention of the international art scene in recent years. For example, at the current Venice Biennale, the China pavilion -- in its second installment after its 2005 debut -- is showing four female artists that have received a good deal of critical acclaim. Among them is Cao Fei, one of the rising stars of the latest generation of Chinese artists that, as curator Hou Hanru once put it, 'has grown up in the world of electronic entertainments and advertisements prevailing within Hong Kong/Taiwan-style pop music, TV drama, computer games and new subcultures influenced by various global trends such as Japanese Manga, American Rap, and Hong Kong films...' For the Venice Biennale, Fei has developed a new project, an Igloo-like inflated nine-chamber house in which several video projections take place featuring a work protagonized by her Second Life avatar, 'China Tracy.' After discovering Second Life, Fei embarked on a six-month journey through the wonders of the digital realm, as China Tracy, and many came across her through a YouTube stream in which she introduced herself in machinima footage with Chinese subtitles. According to Fei's declaration to Second Life's sponsored New World Notes, all sorts of typical activities occurred during that period: 'Fly, chat, build, teleport, buy, sex, add friends, snapshot...' These experiences were documented and generated the three-part, thirty-minute epic, 'i.Mirror' that Fei is now exhibiting at Venice’s Arsenale back garden as well as on YouTube. A melancholic allegory of consumerism, love, and humanity as seen through the eyes of a late-twenties female Chinese anime character, 'i-Mirror' is a brilliant examination of contemporary society's condition; an observation perhaps only possible today form the perspective of virtual space. As Fei says of Second Life, 'It brings 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... Communism is our Utopia, Second Life is our E-topia... It is our mirror, it tells us the truth.' - Miguel Amado

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