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A digital life
[March 17, 2011]

A digital life

Mar 17, 2011 (St. Joseph News-Press - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Whether it's through social media, blogging, online communities or games like "The Sims," plenty of people use technology to essentially create a digitized version of themselves.

But the concept of existing in a digital world is taken to much grander and unexpected places thanks to multimedia artist Cao Fei and her ambitious exhibit "RMB City Opera," currently on display at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.

Fei, born in Beijing, China, is a young artist who is part of a group in her country referred to as New Human Beings, creative minds who grew up with computers and cell phones who embrace all ideas old and new in regard to global culture, art and technology.

Her previous works include videos like the faux-documentary short film "Whose Utopia?" and "Cosplayers," both of which center around ideas about breaking out of everyday reality through boundless imagination.

Her work in "RMB City Opera" seems to be her technological and creative culmination of that idea. Within the realm of Second Life, an online world that users inhabit through the creation of personal avatars, Fei built the expansive RMB City, an artistic metropolis that features buildings of Fei's creation as well as Chinese landmarks like the Pearl Radio Tower and the Beijing National Stadium constructed for the 2008 Summer Olympics. Leesa Fanning, associate curator of modern and contemporary art for Nelson-Atkins, says it's quite impressive in its size and detail.

"You have to really make arrangements of where to meet each other (in it) because it's so large," she says.

But "RMB City Opera" is part video installation and part theatrical performance. The 45-minute video features a wide array of characters and ideas. You'll see the construction of the city, which mirrors China's economic boom, and dancers will perform to music in front of the video projected in the Bloch Building's installation space. They occasionally will mirror the avatars on screen, which may take the form of Chinese soldiers or pop culture icons like Superman or Batgirl.

"RMB City itself is really just over the top in terms of the creativity and the imagination and the beauty of it," Fanning says. "There's all kinds of sights in it that you can go to that are so incredibly fantastic." As playful as the "RMB City Opera" might be, it does juggle numerous ideas and themes relating to love, free will, communism, creativity and how we communicate with or isolate from one another as human beings. But more than anything, Fei created "RMB City Opera" as a place to leave boundaries behind.

"In the context of this film, there's some pretty feel good moments, (but) there's a lot of philosophical issues embedded in it too," Fanning says. "It's all about being very open to new ideas." "RMB City Opera" is on display at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art through June 5. The video will be presented 15 minutes after every hour during museum hours. The video does contain some explicit sexual content. For more information, visit

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