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Cao Fei wins the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2021

Cao Fei has won the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2021 for her solo exhibition Blueprints (2020) Cao Fei is one of the most innovative and exciting young Chinese artists to have emerged on the international scene. 

Working across film, photography, digital media, sculpture and installation, Cao Fei’s longstanding interest in virtual possibilities is underpinned by her own experience of, and extensive research into, China’s historical, political and social structures.

Cao Fei Nova [detail], 2019 © Cao Fei Courtesy of artist, Vitamin Creative Space and Sprüth Magers.

Working with film, digital media, photography, sculpture and performance, Chinese artist Cao Fei (b. 1978, Guangzhou, China) has built an extensive body of work over the last two decades that considers how the rapid development of the digital and other technological advancements have radically altered our perception of self and the way we understand and navigate reality. This first major solo exhibition in the UK re-imagined new and existing works in a site-specific installation that included the new VR piece The Eternal Wave and the feature-length science fiction film Nova as well as earlier projects such as Whose Utopia, Asia One and La Town. Cao Fei’s projects often revolve around the effects of automation, virtual realities and hyper urbanisation on the human condition, while further addressing issues of memory, history, consumerism and societal structures – particularly in her native China. Creating complex, surreal and often darkly humorous dystopian fictions, Cao Fei’s works scrutinise modern systems of surveillance, production and labour reflecting our relationship with intelligent machines and adding critical commentary about the isolating effect these have on every aspect of individual living. Her moving image works are often set in labyrinthine, industrial, or urban settings where the human body, identity and emotions seem alien or redundant and the impending future full of apocalyptic uncertainty. Yet within these dark, twisted environments there are also moments of subversion in which her protagonists find ways to use the technology to shape alternative, collective futures.

Cao Fei Nova [detail], 2019 © Cao Fei Courtesy of artist, Vitamin Creative Space and Sprüth Magers.

Instagram Cao Fei

The work of all the 2021 shortlisted artists, Poulomi Basu, Alejandro Cartagena, Cao Fei and Zineb Sedira, remains on display at The Photographers’ Gallery, curated by Anna Dannemann, until 26 September 2021.

Discover the The Photographers’ Gallery

25 Years of the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize

Over the last 25 years, this leading Photography Prize has honoured ground-breaking artists from across the world, drawing attention to the diverse manifestations and innovative developments of contemporary photography. In showcasing four finalist and one winner each year, the prize has enabled remarkable artist work to be recognised and rewarded within the field, and by the wider public, while capturing, reflecting upon and questioning the changing context of the medium and its wider perception. 

To mark the legacy of the prize, two DBPFP anniversary talks with previous winners and finalists will take place this September. Audiences can join artists Laura El-Tantawy (2016 Prize finalist) and Awoiska van der Molen (2017 Prize finalist) on 14 September in conversation with TPG Director Brett Rogers, and on 16 September hear artists Oliver Chanarin (2013 Winner), Mishka Henner (2013 finalist), and Dana Lixenberg (2017 Winner) at the Gallery with Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Director Anne-Marie Beckmann, as they examine the ongoing importance of the medium,  the mechanisms of the prize and its role in shaping photographic practice today.

The Jury

The 2021 Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize jury comprised: Cristina de Middel, artist; Simon Njami, independent curator, writer, lecturer and art critic; Anna Tellgren, curator of photography at Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Anne-Marie Beckmann, Director of the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation, Frankfurt; and Brett Rogers, Director of The Photographers’ Gallery as the non-voting chair. 

The award ceremony was held at The Photographers’ Gallery, London as well as lived-streamed to an international audience on Thu 9 Sep 2021.  The announcement was made by the British broadcaster, journalist and filmmaker, Bidisha.

Deutsche Börse Photography Prize


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