Crashing into the Future

Crashing into the Future

Artist Cinemas

February 22, 2021
Crashing into the Future
A new program on Artist Cinemas, convened by Cao Fei
Facebook / Instagram / Twitter

e-flux is pleased to present Crashing into the Future, a six-part program of films and interviews put together by Cao Fei. It is the fifth program in Artist Cinemas, a long-term, online series of film programs curated by artists for e-flux Video & Film.

Crashing into the Future will run for six weeks from February 22 through April 5, 2021 screening a new film each week accompanied by an interview with the filmmakers(s) conducted by Cao Fei and invited guests. 

The program opens with Xin Liu’s Living Distance (2019-20), screening from Monday, February 22 through Sunday, February 28 alongside an interview with Xin Liu conducted by Emma Enderby.

Crashing into the Future
Convened by Cao Fei

With films by Fei Yining and Chuck KuanYong Xiang LiXin Liu, Haonan WangZhang CongcongZheng Yuan; and interviews with the filmmakers by Cao FeiEmma EnderbyAlvin LiLawrence Xiao, Yang Beichen, and Evonne Jiawei Yuan

Various signs around us suggest that we have reached a moment where the contradictions accumulated by our history can no longer be sustained. A sense of déjà vu takes hold. Once again, the uneasy organisms of this planet look up and gaze at the cosmos as they hastily crash into the future…

For this program, I’ve selected works by video artists from China born in the late 1980s and 1990s. Most of the featured artists studied or lived abroad for some time, and their artistic practices reflect their diverse influences. I have attempted to delineate thematic junctions in their works that, together, constitute a kind of rhizome wherein meaning is produced in the space between the nodes.

1. Monstrosity
Contemporary culture is rife with the figures of ghosts, aliens, chimeras, cyborgs, undead, zombies, and other indescribable organisms and hybrid species. Sometimes these “monsters” are friendly, other times decidedly not. They could be passersby, or our partners; they might even be us. In essence, their stories are fables of humankind’s contradictions—both inner contradictions and contradictions with the world. If these monsters mirror our alienation, they also mirror our transformation, and sometimes our emancipation.

Made during the pandemic in 2020, Yong Xiang Li’s I’m Not in Love (How to Feed on Humans) features the artist himself as a vampire in search for more than just everlasting life. Partly a playful take on contemporary relationships, the video is also a last celebration of vampirism in a seemingly apocalyptic time. In Haonan Wang’s Bubble (2020), foliage sprouts out of and consumes the male protagonist, transforming him into a beast to be consumed in turn by his female lover. Human and beast, desire and hunger, consumer and food become indistinguishable in a cathartic culmination of alienation.

2. Ghost Worker
The New China of post-1949 witnessed an intense drive to shape the image of the worker, with poetry, music, painting, sculpture, and film devoted to celebrating and enshrining the working class. Since China’s economic reforms of 1978, however, the relationships between various social classes in China have been dramatically transformed. With the identity of the worker ruptured and reconstituted, the working class gradually disappeared from political rhetoric—a phenomenon most significant amid the rapid development that globalization wrought on China in the 1990s. Today, the internet service sector spawned by the new economies of artificial intelligence in China has grown into a “labor-intensive” industry. This industry has given rise to food delivery workers, couriers, app-hailed drivers, and various kinds of door-to-door occupations. “Digital labor” gradually became unstable and isolated, a competition of speed between invisible bodies—ghost workers.

Zhang Congcong’s Element (2021) focuses on the relationship between capital and labor, as well as the corporeality of production. In Element, workers don their machine-operator uniforms and go on long, aimless walks by the sea. They take in the ocean breeze and bask in the sun, reminiscent of the leisurely middle-class figures of Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-86). They are connected by a string of vague actions that can’t quite be called work. Here, Zhang deconstructs the legitimacy of labor and empties its content. Stage after stage, the production chain recalls a mysterious ritual, a whispered code. Zheng Yuan’s Dream Delivery (2018) depicts a group of motorcycle couriers dressed in colorful uniform. The camera pushes and pulls, and pans over them as though in a commercial shoot. Against a backdrop alternating between pastoral park and desert of ancient ruins, they bask in the resplendent sun or fall onto the ground in intoxicated bliss. Through the juxtaposition of interviews, documentary footage, and fiction, the film encapsulates the lived realities of this new type of worker, whose vulnerable body attempts to elude the manipulations of invisible hands.

3. Cosmos in Flux
Philosophical efforts to transcend human limitations and reform the universe—such as those proposed by Russian cosmism or transhumanism—have already become part of an approaching quotidian. Many technologies bear humankind’s insistent belief in transformation and enhancement, and bid farewell to the body, while information becomes the medium by which we consciously intervene in the universe.

Artists Fei Yining and Chuck Kuan’Breakfast Ritual: Art Must Be Artificial (2019) fades out the human as subject and exhibits a free consciousness dominated by AI, floating in a sea of fragmented memories after stellar cooling, passing through an incorporeal whisper of a dream. Is this the eve of the awakening of AI ideology? If the body can be seen as a proxy, then Xin Liu’s Living Distance (2019-20) removes a tiny part of the body—a wisdom tooth—and sends it into space. The wisdom tooth becomes the protagonist of a melancholy trip around the cosmos, reprising the role of the Soviet space dog Laika. The symbiotic relationship between the physicality of the wisdom tooth and the boundlessness of the universe seems to pay homage to the immortality and eternity sought in cosmism.

—Cao Fei, translated by Mike Fu


Week #1: Monday, February 22–Sunday, February 28, 2021
Xin Liu, Living Distance, 2019-20
10:45 minutes 

Living Distance is a fantasy and a mission, in which a wisdom tooth is sent to outer space and back down to Earth again. Propelled by a crystalline robotic sculpture called EBIFA, the tooth becomes a newborn entity in outer space. Its performance is about death, body, and home, in a world where our science exploration and spiritual journeys are diverging.

Week #2: Monday, March 1–Sunday, March 7, 2021
Haonan Wang, Bubble, 2020
14:29 minutes

Bubble is an urban tale of love and sacrifice set in a mysterious restaurant hidden in an alleyway. On an ordinary night, a man eats a lot of herbal plants in front of a woman, transforming himself into her food.

Week #3: Monday, March 8–Sunday, March 14, 2021
Zhang Congcong, Element, 2021
8:00 minutes 

On an ordinary workday, three workers who do not know each other work on an invisible assembly line, all producing the same element.

Week #4: Monday, March 15–Sunday, March 21, 2021
Yong Xiang Li, I’m not in love (How to Feed on Humans), 2020
27:01 minutes

I’m Not in Love restores the tired motif of the vampire, injecting it with a sense of queer warmth. In this freakish and playful combination of narrative film and music video, a 386-year-old Asian vampire—Vampy—struts about town tending to his three lovers, or symbionts. Apparently, his venom is not venomous at all, but instead grants pleasure and long life. (Alvin Li)

Week #5: Monday, March 22–Sunday, March 28, 2021
Fei Yining and Chuck Kuan, Breakfast Ritual: Art Must Be Artificial, 2019
8:51 minutes

Breakfast Ritual presents a speculative glimpse into a post-Anthropocene future in which human civilization as we know it no longer exists. Over breakfast, an AI in the form of a young girl performs a ritual in a semblance of Marina Abramović’s seminal work Art Must Be Beautiful, Artist Must Be Beautiful (1975). 

Week #6: Monday, March 29–Monday, April 5, 2021
Zheng Yuan, Dream Delivery, 2018
9:50 minutes

An exhausted motorcycle courier falls asleep on the bench of a roadside park. In his dream, fellow couriers gather together in a Shanzhai, or counterfeit, park in the desert where the previously mobile riders have become static “statues.” The scene stands in contrast with the speed and efficiency with which they pursue their work around the clock, revealing another side of the Chinese economic miracle. 

Cao Fei (b. 1978, Guangzhou) uses moving image, photography, installation and performance to explore the daily lives of people navigating accelerated changes and chaos in social, political, and technological landscapes, especially in, but not limited to, Chinese and Asian societies today. Anchoring her projects in historical research and film histories, she also embraces mass cultures like cosplay, games, popular music and social media to reflect on the human condition, and the realities of global flows in contemporary post-capitalist societies. Cao has had solo exhibitions at Centre Pompidou Paris (2019), Tai Kwun Contemporary, Hong Kong (2018) and MoMA PS1, New York (2016), among other venues. Her works have been presented at the Venice Biennale (2003, 2007, and 2015), Yokohama Triennale (2008), Tate Modern, and the Berlinale, amongst others. Forthcoming solo exhibitions will take place at MAXXI–the National Museum of 21st Century Arts in Rome, and at the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing (2021).

About Artist Cinemas 
Artist Cinemas is a new e-flux platform focusing on exploring the moving image as understood by people who make film. It is informed by the vulnerability and enchantment of the artistic process—producing non-linear forms of knowledge and expertise that exist outside of academic or institutional frameworks. It will also acknowledge the circles of friendship and mutual inspiration that bind the artistic community. Over time this platform will trace new contours and produce different understandings of the moving image.

For more information, contact

RSVP for Crashing into the Future
Artist Cinemas
February 22, 2021

Thank you for your RSVP.

Artist Cinemas will be in touch.


e-flux announcements are emailed press releases for art exhibitions from all over the world.

Agenda delivers news from galleries, art spaces, and publications, while Criticism publishes reviews of exhibitions and books.

Architecture announcements cover current architecture and design projects, symposia, exhibitions, and publications from all over the world.

Film announcements are newsletters about screenings, film festivals, and exhibitions of moving image.

Education announces academic employment opportunities, calls for applications, symposia, publications, exhibitions, and educational programs.

Sign up to receive information about events organized by e-flux at e-flux Screening Room, Bar Laika, or elsewhere.

I have read e-flux’s privacy policy and agree that e-flux may send me announcements to the email address entered above and that my data will be processed for this purpose in accordance with e-flux’s privacy policy*

Thank you for your interest in e-flux. Check your inbox to confirm your subscription.