A small model of a cinema with police officer figures outside.

Cao Fei, La Town, 2014 (production still). Image courtesy Cao Fei and Vitamin Creative Space. Purchased with support from Art Fund.

Cao Fei, La Town

Year: 2014
Medium: Single channel video (digital film)
Dimensions: 00:41:56 run time
Brief biography: b. 1978, Guangzhou, China. Lives and works in Beijing.

La Town presents a story of a changed, uncanny, metropolis. Turning to fantasy in order to explore the human condition, in this stop-motion animation Fei presents a mythical, post-apocalyptic city environment: The miniature, hand-made architectural sets are populated with figurines, dead animals, sea monsters and zombies. The camera pans around seemingly derelict low-rise housing blocks, gives aerial views of urban wasteland, and captures smoke billowing from a train that has crashed into a craggy mountainside. The film’s French dialogue is given in English subtitles:  “I see the daylight, I see my life and your death”; “Chaos will prevail”; “I myself, Lost in thought”. A sense of catastrophe pervades: this could be anywhere in the world, at any time. In the search for a happy social utopia, what is presented instead is a world of trauma.   

Everyone has heard the myth of La Town. The story first appeared in Europe, but after traveling through a space-time wormhole, reappeared in Asia and Southeast Asia. It was last seen near the ocean bordering the Eurasian tectonic plate, vanishing in its midst as if a mirage. La Town, struck by unknown disaster – where without sunlight, time froze. Polar night was all encompassing, so the few instances of white nights have been momentously recorded in the town’s history. Yet, through the drifting of time and space, various countries have rewritten La Town’s history, and details have been neglected. Now, the story of the small town’s past – love affairs, politics, life, demons and disasters – have all been sealed beneath the museum’s vitrines, the historical “specimens” becoming an authoritative but limited interpretation of this town’s history. Cao Fei.  

La Town has screened at PRESENCE: A Window into Chinese Contemporary Art, St.George’s Hall Liverpool (2018); What’s in Store?, Salford Museum and Art Gallery, Salford (2017); Lombard Fried Gallery New York (2014); 56th Venice Biennale (2015); State of Concept Gallery in Athens, Greece (2016) and the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art 30th Anniversary exhibition, CFCCA, Manchester (2016). 

2017 group shows in which Cao Fei exhibited included: Art & Life: Social Aesthetics Obscured, Tranen Contemporary Art Center, Hellerup; Utopia & Dystopia (Part II), MAAT Museum of Art and Technology, Lisbon; .com/ .cn, K11 Art Foundation and MoMA PS1, Hong Kong; Repousser le tigre dans la montagne, Centre d’art Le LAIT, Albi, France; Haze and Fog, Tate Exchange, Tate Liverpool, Liverpool, UK; Rip it Up, 2nd Edition of Changjiang International Photography and Video Biennale, Changjiang Museum of Contemporary Art, Chongqing, China; Videobox Festival, Le Carreau du Temple, Paris, France; Mekong – New Mythologies, Hong Kong Arts Centre Pao Galleries, Hong Kong. 

Artist’s website: http://www.caofei.com/ 

Gallery representing artist: http://www.vitamincreativespace.art/en/?artist=caofei 

La Town trailer.

Poem by Dr Scott Thurston in response to La Town.

Cao Fei’s 2013 film Haze and Fog is also in the University of Salford Art Collection.

La Town was purchased with support from Art Fund.