Cao Fei’s video La Town, 2014 depicts a mythical metropolis that has been destroyed by unknown forces. Although the damage is obvious, as the camera navigates across the elaborate, handmade dioramas, the inhabitants of La Town carry on with their activities and the normality of everyday life pervades. As the film progresses, the latent chaos and violence begin to emanate from every corner of the miniature city: a bloody briefcase left on the ground, a kidnapping scene, an axe murderer on the loose, a ferocious man-eating octopus—all rendering the darkness of this new post-apocalyptic world order.
La Town is ridden with traces of a consumer capitalist society—such as a well known German supermarket, a McDonald’s, flickering neon Shell signs, and a movie theater playing Gone with the Wind—deliberately coupled with references to different cultures and time periods in order to make it impossible to decipher a time and place. These cultural signifiers are a reflection of Fei’s own experience of the paradoxes brought by a regime that incubated a voracious hyper-capitalism in her native Guangzhou, also known as “the world’s factory.”
The dialogue in the film is based on the 1957 movie Hiroshima Mon Amour directed by Alain Resnais, with a screenplay written by Marguerite Duras. In both films we hear an ambiguous and nonlinear conversation in French where a man and a woman contradict each other, extenuating the discrepancy between what is and isn’t real.
As with her virtual works La Town uses the city to address Fei’s ongoing concerns: the inaccuracy of memory, forgetfulness, and a tacit existentialism as we search for a greater truth in different facets of everyday life.