Friday, September 19, 2014

Cao Fei's "La Town" at Lombard Freid Gallery

Viewing Cao Fei’s newest video work, La Town, is an experience that consists of equal parts enchantment and confusion. Cao’s film draws the viewer into a dark, seedy and crumbling town: La Town. In La Town Cao highlights both the mundanity and vice of contemporary society through the creation of an obviously fake, alternate world modeled on our own.

Bright, artificial colors, and the sort of omnipresent night and severe lighting one might find in a neo-noir film characterize the film. Roughly hewn, yet vividly human wax dolls and plastic buildings act as substitutes for real actors and locations. Intense music and vague voiceover narration enhances the films dark mood. Whispered voices discuss La Town’s dark fate in broken, nebulous phrases, only ever half-informing the viewer of La Town’s fate and history

At the beginning of La Town the words “this simulacrum remains unsurpassed in its invocation of the real” flicker across the screen. With this, Cao acknowledges the unreality of La Town, while affirming its credibility as a stand in for reality. Though it may be composed of no more than dolls and plastic toys, Cao asserts La Town’s validity as a representation of reality. By distilling the experience of contemporary society and transposing it onto an obviously unreal realm, she challenges the viewer to question similarities between La Town and the real world.

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  1. I think you hit the nail on the head. You vividly introduced the work and captured the bizarre, yet "enchanted" feeling from watching it. It would have been nice to read an example or two of scenes that made an impact on you. For instance, the cops and protesters going crazy in the streets and all hell breaking loose.

    It's interesting how something so very unreal, as you put it, can be a source of real anxiety as soon as one realizes that there are indeed many truthful parallels in our world.

  2. Good review! You have created a sort of trailer for a would-be gallery attendee that captures the mood of the piece perfectly. I think it would have been interesting to see how you felt about Cao Fei's other works (the photographs) in the show and how those tied in to the video. I agree with the other comment that talking about a favorite scene could work nicely. While you touched on the sound in the video, a large part of what struck me was the intensity of the dark, action-film-esque music that went along with it. This review makes me want to go watch the video again.

  3. Your perspective leads me to rethink the role of substitutes from this video. Your description of this video brings me into some scenes to remember the town lights with sounds in the darkness. I agree your review that Cao Fei's La Town shows as a representative of reality through unreal miniature version of contemporary society. I also feel that this video represents objectivity of our current society by using the contrast between a real life and unreal reflection.