In Whose Utopia, Cao Fei illuminates the human workforce behind one of the largest manufacturers of light bulbs in the world. Consisting of three parts, this video was shot during a six-month residency the artist participated in at the OSRAM lighting factory in the Pearl River Delta region of China. She not only documented the factory’s production processes but also collaborated with workers to develop performances that were staged throughout the facility. According to Cao Fei, her aim was to “release the workers from a standardized notion of productivity.”
During their performances, some of the factory employees wear regular clothing, while others choose to wear costumes; some dance while others play guitar. These moments transform a space in which movement is highly controlled into one that allows for fluidity, play, and self-expression. It is possible that some of the lights made at this factory are currently illuminating the city beyond this gallery—where other workers are busy with their own routines.
Gallery label from 2020