To this day, I often ponder the good fortune that led me to the Hongxia Theatre. If buildings have souls, then was our meeting destined long ago? Was the theatre waiting for someone to come write the story that it could not tell by itself? Silent and ghostly, a building that people had dubbed a 'living antique' – what would have happened if it had fallen into the hands of a cultural company, or been turned into a seafood restaurant, a trendy cafe or a courier service? I cannot say for sure which would be best for it, but I do believe that what happened was not random. Rather, we were guided by fate, which allowed us to slip into the cracks of time, to face the past and to reassemble its fragmented present.
I walked through the theatre countless times, staring into every corner. It became familiar to me in a particular way: I hadn't grown up here, so it enticed my imagination of an invisible past. And the past was a direction that I had never before explored in my creative work.
Cao Fei: HX takes Cao Fei's studio, the former Hongxia Theatre, as a starting point, and expands out into neighbouring Jiuxianqiao and Dashanzi Districts. The theatre was built during a period of intense industrial development throughout the 1940s, 50s and 60s.Working like an archaeologist, Cao Fei seeks to propose alternative versions of the theatre and its history, as neither the narrative of China's electronic industry nor the life and fate of an entire generation has been fully explored until now. The HX project has become an ambitious time-space complex, and the resulting publication developed alongside the project has taken shape over the course of this long-term research.
The publication follows its own logic and rhythm, acting as a counterpart to the artworks that Cao Fei created as part of the project. The images selected for this publication are compiled in the form of an 'atlas' that creates an alternative narrative: the visual materials originate from the research process of Cao Fei, who has collected them from different resources, including family albums of local residents, illustrations of publications and periodicals, archival materials of institutions, and works of photographers. These visual materials and the texts are interwoven, which renders a montage-like visual rhyme throughout the publication.
Cao Fei: HX does not simply function as an artist's publication, since it has a complex and open structure that corresponds to the irreducible depth of the issues explored. To some extent, HX could be regarded as an intellectual experiment, which transcends the significance of the HX project itself and expands to a wider consideration of the past and its relationship to our contemporary world.
The Forking Paths
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