Cao Fei: Haze and Fog
26 October – 8 December 2013
‘Haze and Fog’ marks an innovative collaboration between CFCCA and the University of Salford; establishing a New Collection of Chinese Contemporary Art. Produced by Eastside Projects (Birmingham) and Vitamin Creative Space (China), commissioned in partnership with Eastside Projects, Arnolfini (Bristol), Bath School of Art and Design, Bath Spa University. The film was exhibited at Eastside Projects (Birmingham) until 16th November 2014, and was screened at Tate Modern and Arnolfini as part of a series of events profiling the artist’s work.
‘Haze and Fog’ is an ambitious film commission, taking on the popular zombie movie genre. One of the most important female Chinese artists working today, Cao Fei, uses her work to examine intimate personal and cultural relationships to a modern day metropolitan China by exploring notions of class and value structures, powerlessness, the masses as a neutral force, and frozen moments of time.
‘Haze and Fog’ presents a move away from the traditional good versus evil heroic drama of zombie activity. Instead, the film focuses on the chaotic world of what the artist describes as a ‘magical metropolis’ with cities ‘possessed by both the magic’s fanciful illusion and its devilish terror’. A clear vision emerges through the struggles of the everyday and mundane daily routine, showing the tipping point between the visible and the invisible sides of life – the current reality in, and of, China.
Zombie films and culture have not conventionally had the same representation in mainland China as they have in Western culture. ‘Haze and Fog’ interprets and represents the ‘walking dead’ in a way quite dissimilar to the traditional Western notion. The artist is concerned with ‘the doomsayers and popular culture’, the paradox between life and death, and how we define those as dead or as alive. The Western zombie folklore exists as a being those whose brains are dead but whose body remains functioning, relying on human flesh to survive. The zombies of Cao Fei’s film are people with something dead inside, ‘not their brain, but their soul’. The characters in the film are different kinds of zombies – those who have lost their traditional links in life and entered into this new fog and numb state of ‘neutral modernity’.
This is a time of unprecedented economic growth in China. There has been mass internal migration from the poor rural villages to the vast ‘rich’ cities. However, in the process of becoming more ‘civilised’, China is in real danger of losing the very traditions and rituals that give the county its unique cultural identity. Cao Fei is concerned that China is losing its soul.
‘Haze and Fog’ examines the lives of the changing middle classes up close, slowly and in detail, whilst focusing on the international, modern groups of new immigrants that are moving to the inner city from traditional housing areas. We see people whose traditions and daily rituals have been altered and lost. Whilst not designed to reflect a nostalgic view of older wisdoms, the characters in the film are symbolic of an on-going invisible battle between the modern and the traditional in China, challenging previously understood notions of progress and tradition, and of moral value, right and wrong.