Thursday, October 2, 2014

"La Town"

Cao Fei’s show La Town at Lombard Freid Gallery consists of a 40-minute video and five photographs of a dystopian fantasy world. Fei created this world with many plastic figurines and elaborate dioramas. The video is volatile, suspenseful, and entertaining, and it takes the viewer through a carefully constructed narrative. What stood out to me were the photographs, taken from the meticulously arranged sets used in the film. The scenes portrayed in the photographs are highly constructed yet surprisingly candid snapshots that portray a range of apocalyptic scenes. Looking at the series of photographs induces a feeling of voyeurism that plastic dolls don’t normally evoke, as if we are spying on their world that is scarily like our own, but the figures weren’t quite ready to share their crumbling world with us. From a dilapidated McDonald’s to a secret military meeting in an airplane hanger, the strange life in the images is both refreshing and oddly humorous.  
The five photographs in La Town are so strong not only because they are beautifully bleak images, but also because they allow the viewer to project different stories onto each one. The blurred and blank faces of the small plastic citizens beg to be given characters with individual stories to tell. While the intense music from the video in the next room drifts over, the photographs can come to life in many different ways for each spectator. La Town is a delightful archaeological dig through someone’s old toy trunk, viewed through the lens of a bleak and not-so-distant future.


  1. I like your take on Cao Fei's work. I am actually very partial to the LA Town film because it did create for me a dystopian setting and the "intense music" made me on edge the whole time and gave me a very (David) Lynchian what the hell is going on here feel. I like how you talk about how this is like toys gone wild or referencing Lord of the Flies, but i would actually place the film more in a serious, almost political light, personally. Your sentence citing "...the bizarre scenarios that slightly unhinged children love to place their toys in..." is clever and funny and i would agree that in Form the piece has that element, but if you read the narrative more closely, the scenarios are symbolic of greater problems society faces today, and perhaps the use of these on-the-surface-humorous-and-childish-miniatures are meant to demoralize or trivialize the greater dementing events that the inhabitants of that world live through. There is decadence, prostitution, crime, rioting, @#$%-ing, and zombies all in this miniature set and one can access the film and even photographs with a childlike imagination, but should quickly recognize that one should feel small in face of the frightful scenarios of this world that really isn't so far fetched from our real world today.

  2. I got same expression from the video. Viewing her film was an enchanting, but grotesque experience. Like you mentioned, she created La Town with the wax-dolls, and plastic miniature buildings, but I thought the underlying meaning seems that the artist reflects her “playful-but political view” against the world in that fictional town, and she draws the viewer into the dark, dilapidated and crumbling city, which represents secular aspects of the contemporary society. I like how you describe your feelings when you’re looking at the series of photographs at the room behind the space with the video screen.