Watch Chinese Art Star Cao Fei Use Video Games and Hip Hop to Construct Surreal Alternate Realities

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

A production still from the "Art in the Twenty-First Century" Season 5 episode, "Fantasy," 2009. © Art21, Inc. 2009.

What will the future look like? Will we live vicariously through pixelated avatars who embody only our best traits? Will factories be operated not by people, but by automated drones? These are just a few of artist Cao Fei‘s ideas, which she explores in videos that fuse magical realism with pop culture from East and West.

Most recently, Cao created the video and installation Asia One (2018), which imagines how technology will shape human interaction, after making a series of visits to China’s most advanced industrial facilities. The newly commissioned work is on view now at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York as part of its group show “One Hand Clapping.”

Our generation has grown up in a fluid and mobile environment where cultures mix and diverge,” the Chinese-born artist said in a 2009 interview with Art21. “Pop culture has spread rapidly into every corner of China.”

Production still from the “Art in the Twenty-First Century” Season 5 episode, “Fantasy,” 2009. © Art21, Inc. 2009.

Throughout the interview, 40-year-old Cao speaks through an avatar, China Tracy, who lives within the realm of the popular online video game Second Life. Cao spent eight to 10 hours a day playing the game to develop Tracy, whose virtual adventures are chronicled in the 2007 film i.Mirror. In the interview with Art21, Tracy acts as an interpreter for the Chinese-speaking artist.

Cao’s work blends documentary film-making with high-tech digital effects to envision possible futures and build out alternate dimensions. In the Art21 interview, Cao explains that her most famous Internet-based project, RMB City—an entire city she designed on Second Life—is “precisely an acknowledgment of the belief in and the practice of democracy. I think this project will lead to the foundation on which to experiment with Utopian practices.”

Watch the segment, which originally appeared as part of the “Art in the Twenty-First Century” television series on PBS, below. One Hand Clapping is on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York until October 21.

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists throughout the summer. A new season of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship Art in the Twenty-First Century television series premieres this September on PBS. Watch full episodes and learn about the organization’s education programs at

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