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Cao Fei, Haze and Fog, 2013, C-print, 70 x 105 cm © Courtesy of Cao Fei and Vitamin Creative Space.
Cao Fei, Haze and Fog, 2013, C-print, 70 x 105 cm © Courtesy of Cao Fei and Vitamin Creative Space.
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Cao Fei And Yael Efrati In Tel Aviv: Questions Of Modernism

Picture of Pablo Markin
Updated: 10 May 2016
Running March 17 through May 14, 2016, two contrasting exhibitions that present products of aesthetic reflections on modernity and modernism are on display at the Center for Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv. The show by Cao Fei was dedicated to her video work, ‘Haze and Fog,’ which ensconced in a dark exhibition hall, takes its viewers (through a looped projection) on a visual, film-like ride across public, in-between, and domestic spaces. In contrast, in her exhibition entitled ‘Eye of the Sea,’ Yael Efrati brings the presence of minimalist works of art to bear on her exhibition as a space of representation for the displacement of modernism into her local, Israeli context.
Cao Fei, Haze and Fog, 2013, C-print, 70 x 105 cm © Courtesy of Cao Fei and Vitamin Creative Space.
Cao Fei, Haze and Fog, 2013, C-print, 70 x 105 cm | © Courtesy of Cao Fei and Vitamin Creative Space.

Cao Fei’s video work approaches the contemporary suburban experience as a point of generic reference for her ironic examination of China’s urbanization. The artistic and clearly campy lens carefully observes the boredom of modern life, the outbursts of repressed urges, and the emergence of class distinctions that are a critical perspective on Chinese modernity. Not unlike Charles Baudelaire, who sought to use poetry to capture the contradiction-ridden urbanity of 19th century Paris in stylized, narrative sketches, Fei’s work documents Beijing’s emergence as a preeminent modern city – bits and pieces of Western everyday life become part of and parcel its urban experience. As a result, Beijing and other Asian megacities represent a repetition of the history of modernity, but with a local twist.

Cao Fei, Haze and Fog, 2013, C-print, 70 x 105 cm © Courtesy of Cao Fei and Vitamin Creative Space.
Cao Fei, Haze and Fog, 2013, C-print, 70 x 105 cm | © Courtesy of Cao Fei and Vitamin Creative Space.

Similarly, Chinese modern society, culture, and economics appear to have created new social classes, such as service employees, to whose invisibility Cao Fei draws attention. The artist’s disinterested gaze into the forms that Chinese modern society takes shows how uncanny frustrations, satisfactions, and fears increasingly comprise everyday life.

Cao Fei, Haze and Fog, 2013, C-print, 70 x 105 cm © Courtesy of Cao Fei and Vitamin Creative Space.
Cao Fei, Haze and Fog, 2013, C-print, 70 x 105 cm | © Courtesy of Cao Fei and Vitamin Creative Space.

On the one hand, Cao Fei’s video work traverses the non-places of Chinese modernity that have a generic and international homogeneity, such as shopping malls, fitness centers, and gated communities. She is able to use these spaces as a form of visual anthropology of everyday life that follows Marc Augé’s reflection on the solitude associated with normally disregarded spaces in modern cities.

Cao Fei, Haze and Fog, 2013, C-print, 70 x 105 cm © Courtesy of Cao Fei and Vitamin Creative Space.
Cao Fei, Haze and Fog, 2013, C-print, 70 x 105 cm | © Courtesy of Cao Fei and Vitamin Creative Space.

On the other hand, the artist documents how individuals, such as cleaners, salespeople, and guards, transitorily populating these nondescript spaces come to terms with distinctions that growing economic gaps impose on their relations with others. As the dead hand of capital strengthens its grip on social relations in China, zombies become an uncanny metaphor for the disintegration of erstwhile cultural and social distinctions giving way to hybrid forms of social existence.

Yael Efrati, Eye of the Sea, Exhibition at the Center for Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv, 17.03.2016 – 14.05.2016 © Elad Sarig.
Yael Efrati, Eye of the Sea, Exhibition at the Center for Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv, 17.03.2016 – 14.05.2016 | © Elad Sarig

By contrast, rather than exploring the syntactic articulation of modernity in China’s urban spaces, Yael Efrati counterpoises in her centerpiece work, evocations of Hebrew angular alphabet, against an abstract representation of sea, which forms the motif of this show. In this exhibition, reality is only present in symbolic, highly stylized forms.

Yael Efrati, Eye of the Sea, Exhibition at the Center for Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv, 17.03.2016 – 14.05.2016 © Elad Sarig
Yael Efrati, Eye of the Sea, Exhibition at the Center for Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv, 17.03.2016 – 14.05.2016 | © Elad Sarig.

In an effort to escape conventions and sharpen the avant-garde potential of modernism, a figurative painting of an Eastern European woman dressed in ethnic garb is brought into the realm of minimalist sculptures. Cryptic aesthetic gestures, non-functional constructivist sculptures, and self-consciously minimalist objects defy thematic framing as either modernist or postmodernist, but are semiotiocally related to the local Israeli context, such as Arabesque tiles Yael Efrati recollects from her childhood in Haifa.

Yael Efrati, Eye of the Sea, Exhibition at the Center for Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv, 17.03.2016 – 14.05.2016 © Elad Sarig.
Yael Efrati, Eye of the Sea, Exhibition at the Center for Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv, 17.03.2016 – 14.05.2016 | © Elad Sarig.

Thus, while Cao Fei puts the representations of generic everyday life spaces into surreal, titillating and occasionally nostalgic compositions, Yael Efrati decomposes modern, linear perspective into flat non-representative surfaces and enigmatic constructions. She achieves this through utilizing basic elements of artistic expression such as primary colors and lighting effects. In other words, while the process of Chinese modernization can be described as involving social displacement, the displacement of modernism into the Israeli context can be seen as a process of deconstructing and reconstructing Euro-centric terms of aesthetic reference into an artistic perspective on the representation of local reality.

Yael Efrati, Eye of the Sea, Exhibition at the Center for Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv, 17.03.2016 – 14.05.2016 © Elad Sarig.
Yael Efrati, Eye of the Sea, Exhibition at the Center for Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv, 17.03.2016 – 14.05.2016 | © Elad Sarig.

The Center for Contemporary Art, 2a Tsadok Hacohen St., Tel Aviv +972 3-510-6111