The artist Cao Fei asked me to write a few short impressionistic texts for her new book, co-published by Daimler Art Collection and The Pavilion, Beijing. They were to act as introductory entry points to three of her best known projects: RMB City; Haze & Fog and La Town. New China, forever apocalypse. Here they are.
You Travel to La Town
You will arrive at La Town. You travelled a long way. A long time. Via Hiroshima and Nevers. The plane had to take a detour. Electrical storms. Turbulence. You hate turbulence the most. You only reflect upon your mortality in a plane. You can even taste death. Or is that the after-taste of the terrible plane food. Every tiny shudder. Jolt. It sends shivers from your brain to your feet and then back again. The pilot said we have to make an emergency landing. You assumed you would all die. That’s what the sky is for. Disappearances. It’s OK though. It’s fine. You have arrived in La Town. With a new vitality for life. You are ready to discover. You are the kind of person who prefers not to read about a place beforehand. Those travel websites that advise. Award stars. You prefer to see everything with your own eyes. Without prejudice. You have tried to put the frightening rumours around La Town aside. You are an explorer of what’s left of the world. Sometimes you feel like you’re the last person on earth. This makes you feel alive. Like you matter. You are about to enter La Town, at its militarized border. You show your passport, even though countries are a thing of the past. You are tired. Your life feels like a videogame without a prize. But what is that sensation? That you have stood here before? It’s impossible. Your home is thousands of miles away. It’s your first time here. Irrelevant. This is what you sense. Déjà vu. La Town. Fear, excitement. Dread and desire. Your friends warned you that when you get to La Town you would remember nothing before that. You remember nothing about Hiroshima and Nevers. La Town will swallow you whole. Desire is fear. La Town coughs clouds of smoke. A chilling silence of an abandoned planet. La Town is what’s left of all of us. The end is OMG. Then a scream that can never be forgotten. That scream is yours.
For Sale: Haze and Fog
We have the ideal place. You and your family have been searching for this all your life. Where is it? It’s not ‘just outside Beijing.’ It’s the New Beijing, the one that makes the other Beijing feel old. Like a ghost. We’d really like to set up a viewing for you. All our agents are ready. They’ll even dance when you arrive. Our best clients are entitled to their own customized dance. That’s the kind of agency we are. When you arrive, we’ll show you all the new facilities. Think residential paradise. Cafes. Organic grocery stores. Cutting edge hairdresser. International primary school. Yoga studio. 24-hour gym. Dark hidden basements. We’re so proud of the community created here. China is proud of us. Together we are proud of our future. Where else do the living and the not living manage to coexist? Where else can you see your dead parents and their dead parents on the way to the kid’s playground? Hello! All apartments have state of the art kitchens. Every surface is wipe easy. The plasma screens are so realistic you’ll think that red paint is blood! Your neighbours are the new crème of society. Lots of creative types. Artists too. We are very strict about who can move here. We share values. Everyone here believes in a kind of modern Chinese freedom. Every man, woman, or zombie is free to do his, her or its business without the judgment of others. Wealth, boredom, sexual fetishes. These are not taboo words. They’re a way of life. And the views! On a rare clear day, the views tell you this is a special place with its own rules. They may at first seem hazy and foggy but you’ll soon discover that a community that shares values can make a place like no other on earth. Because every great civilization from the past adapts morality to their time. We do too. We police each other. Wrongdoers are eaten alive. Not joking! Remember. We want your life to be the most contemporary possible. Your life is an investment. This place is the high yield return. Would you like a slice of watermelon? Welcome to your new home!
User’s Guide: RMB City
I press the ON button.
user guide: “Hello. I’m your Intelligent Guide.”
me: “Nice to meet you.”
user guide: “The pleasure is mine. I’m here to tell you how to use RMB City.”
me: “Great. I can’t wait to get started.”
user guide: “If I go too fast, just rewind. I’m here to make your life less chaotic and much more fun.”
me: “Capitalism has killed my idea of fun. And made me poorer.”
I look sad.
user guide: “RMB City was designed with you in mind. Let’s get started. First. You’ll need to stop being you. You need a new you.”
me: “I can do that?”
user guide: “You have to. The secret of RMB City is searching for the secret inside of you.”
me: “You make it sound metaphysical?”
user guide: “I’m sorry.”
me: “It’s OK. I like metaphysical. At the weekends.”
user guide: “Ha. That is a joke. Ha.”
I look perplexed. I point at the various elements that make up RMB City.
user guide: “They’re the best of New China all in one easy to get to place.”
me: “How do I get there?”
user guide: “You teleport of course.”
me: “That sounds fun.”
user guide: “I told you it would be. You just mentally picture where you want to go and in less than a second you’re there.”
me: “You make it sound so perfect.”
user guide: “I’m programmed to.”
me: “What about money. In First Life, money corrupts and kills.”
user guide: “Currency is a necessary evil.”
I look worried.
me: “Ha? Joke? Ha?”
user guide: “No. RMB City has its own currency. You can never hold it though. It never becomes dirty. You can use it to buy me a present.”
I look more worried.
user guide: “That was a joke.”
me: “What about when I want to meet others like me?”
user guide: “No one is like you. RMB City will make you more of an individual than you have ever been. But it’s easy to meet other individuals. They’re waiting to meet you. And your soul.”
me: “How do you know I have a soul?”
user guide: “I scanned your body.”
I look violated.
user guide: “Everything is data. Data is everything.”
me: “Is that the religion there?”
user guide: “You decide.”
me: “What if I transgress?”
user guide: “You decide.”
me: “What if I don’t want to decide?”
user guide: “There’s provision for that too.”
me: “So there really is no limit to my freedom?”
user guide: “The sea and sky and land are as wide as our server farms allow. Your imagination is the only other factor.”
me: “I’m ready.”
user guide: “So is RMB City.”
user guide: “Ha?”