Cao Fei’s videos run on hopeless fantasies and unfulfilled promises, showing social arrangements that mirror our own globalized economy of schemes and dreams. Her mid-career retrospective at PS1 features dystopian works whose characters seem to have woken up from a long nap and are trying to reorient themselves in a once familiar place. The people in Haze and Fog (2013) act out bizarre, sometimes clownish situations: solo slow-dancing in a supermarket aisle, mourning over a spilled box of rubber balls, lining up along a street in a brand-new city as if watching a parade of ghosts. The live actors have the same fixed expressions as the animated figures in i.Mirror (2007), a melancholy tour through the virtual reality of Second Life starring China Tracy, Cao’s avatar there. Equally zombie-like are the cheap plastic dolls in La Town (2014), who form tableaux in a city of never-ending night that range from a romantic dinner for two to businessmen at a strip club to an angry mob rising in a field. While the installation highlights the videos by transforming PS1’s galleries into a series of black-box theaters, the exhibition also includes framed stills from Haze and Fog, vitrines with sets from La Town, and an interactive station where visitors can explore RMB City, the environment that Cao created in Second Life. The array of details and perspectives underscore her modus operandi as a builder of worlds. —Brian Droitcour
Pictured: Still from Cao Fei’s Haze and Fog, 2013, 46 min.