Apr 2, 2021|

Chinese Artist Cao Fei Highlights JD.com in First Major Solo Exhibit in Beijing


by Kelly Dawson

The first major solo art exhibition by renowned contemporary Chinese artist Cao Fei has opened at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) in Beijing, with a section highlighting JD.com in two videos filmed at one of the company’s futuristic, AI-powered Asia No. 1 automated warehouses. Titled “Staging the Era,” the exhibition is a retrospective of Cao’s work, which explores themes of economic growth and globalization, encapsulating the dizzying changes that have taken place in China and around the world in recent decades.

In a video titled “Asia One,” a JD employee is seen interfacing with digital devices in JD’s warehouse.  He is accompanied by only one other employee, and a team of robots that echo JD’s real-life use of autonomous ground vehicles (AGVs) and other AI technology to handle more than 1.3 million packages per day during peak shopping seasons, seen here in a seemingly never-ending stream and dispatched with orderly efficiency. The two workers yearn for affection, yet struggle to connect.

Later a group of workers appear in the warehouse to participate in a feverish dance performance reminiscent of Chinese operas, a surreal sequence surrounding an enormous inflated octopus that serves as contrast to the futuristic, sleek technology of previous scenes. Above them is a banner that reads, “Humans and machines, hand in hand.”

Also featured in the exhibition is the documentary film “11.11 (2018),” which was filmed at JD headquarters in Beijing and explores the overwhelmingly complex operations undertaken by the e-commerce giant during the enormously popular shopping festival occurring on Nov. 11 each year. In this video, JD’s (very human) employees are showcased, with some of its more than 190,000 couriers and logistics workers seen racing through the streets of Beijing, a common sight in the capital city.

Both videos were previously featured in a 2018 group exhibition titled “One Hand Clapping” at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, on which occasion the New York Times declared that “No young artist has a sharper view of the future than Cao Fei.” Describing “Asia One,” the newspaper described the video as a “mournfully beautiful hybrid of economic forecast and tragic love story.”

Now appearing as part of the artist’s first major solo exhibition at UCCA, “Asia One” and “11.11” are showcased in a separate area and accompanied by JD paraphernalia including a warehouse hard hat and stacked delivery boxes. Also appearing at the exhibition is the giant inflated octopus from “Asia One,” an absolutely unforgettable image.

“Staging the Era” will be on exhibit at UCCA in Beijing until June 6, 2021.