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Sino City

© Courtesy of the Artist and Lombard-Fried Project, New York

For almost a year Beijing-based artist Cao Fei spent eight to ten hours a day navigating Second Life, the online community in which close to 13 million “residents,” using avatars, create parallel lives for themselves, with alternate homes, jobs, even romantic entanglements. Cao captured the Second Life encounters of her persona, China Tracy, in the documentary i.Mirror, which premièred to much acclaim at last year’s Venice Biennale. This spring she exhibited her Second Life metropolis, RMB City, at New York’s Lombard-Freid Projects. A virtual utopia in 3-D, it serves as a commentary on modern-day Beijing, juxtaposing its realities—frenetic land development, post-communism—with escapist, surrealist fantasy: Tiananmen Square has a pool while a panda hangs from a crane. Cao’s show included digital photographs (stills from video filmed in Second Life), architectural models, and laptops that allowed visitors to explore RMB City’s construction site in real time. “She has an extraordinary ability to tap into the global zeitgeist,” says Lea Freid, a partner at the gallery, “almost as if she can see the future.” A selection of the artist’s work will be at the 55th Carnegie International, which runs through January 2009 at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art.