The artist’s oeuvre is a combination of artistic genres and techniques encompassing sculpture, performance art and photography, whilst also simultaneously addressing important issues in today’s society as well as the various political controversies in China and world-wide.
At first glance, the photographs seem to be merely of an unusual landscape, sometimes easily unidentifiable, sometimes not. However, upon closer inspection an outline of a man appears, standing within the setting. This figure is unnerving and begs the questions - what is he doing there? What is the symbolism of this character and what is his purpose of blending himself into the background?
This figure is of course the artist himself, who is ‘Hiding in the City’, thus becoming ‘The Invisible Man’. The artistic motivation for the production of these series dates back to 2005, when the Suo Jia Cun (Beijing International Art Camp), was demolished by the local government. As a member of Suo Jia Cun and one of the artists whose studio was destroyed, Liu Bolin felt it his duty to protest against such ruination which occurred without warning from the police.
However, the contemporary political climate being what it was, certain forms of protests were and still are simply prohibited, and thus the artist came up with the ingenious methodology that he still practices till this day. Incredibly, no digital superimposition, nor any digital altering is made by the studio or artist.
The background and landscapes chosen are typically representational of the current concerns of society. “The locations I choose must be strongly referenced to some symbols like politics, environment, culture, etc.… the backgrounds express the most important information, conflicts are caused when my body vanishes in different backgrounds, a reflection of society from my point of view.”
Integrating into the chosen landscape can be interpreted in a number of ways. Primarily, it allows for an objection to the current political climate or societal issue whilst maintaining a level of anonymity. For concerns such as the environment or global warming, which Liu Bolin has also expressed through his work, this also means that the focus of these concerns precedes the individual impact of these problems on the artist as well as the member of the audience. “From my perspective, the meaning of human beings has been constantly annihilated in modern society. In the rapidly developing course, whilst living environment is improving, people are effacing themselves; what a great contradiction! I choose to hide in different backgrounds because each one has its own significance.” In a way, the artist manages to question the inter-cancelling relationship between our civilization and its development in a highly accessible manner.
Additionally, his work can be seen as a metaphor for the condition of today’s society, who feel invisible to the greater powers of the government, environment, consumerism and urbanization. Liu Bolin notes that “… In China, people have maintained the red-themed uniformity lifestyle for a long time, especially common people. They have even injected the uniformity of behaviour or thinking into their blood”, but the same can be said for any other country and place. To what extent can our plight be heard? To what extent can we identify ourselves within a similar situation or in an analogous landscape? Would you be able to recognize yourself in a place where forces outside yourself thrust you into the background?....
Born in China’s Shandong province in 1973, Liu Bolin earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Shandong College of Arts and his Master of Fine Arts from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. In 2005, Liu Bolin’ first series “Hiding in the city” presented a self-portrait of the artist immobile and covered with paint, blending perfectly in the foreground of his studio which was just razed to the ground by the Chinese government.
A silent protest ensured Liu Bolin simultaneously made himself conspicuous, yet invisible. Since then, he has created works combining photography, body art, optical art and living sculpture. Liu poses for hours in front of a wall, a landscape or a monument to blend in with the scenery – eyes closed, a silhouette barely visible – with the help of his painters-assistants and without any digital effects. At the end of the camouflage process, the performance is captured via photography.
His work has been exhibited throughout the world, including at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, France; Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome, Italy in 2012 as well as the United Nations Visitor Centre (main entrance lobby), United Nations Headquarters, New York, USA. His works are in a number of important collections including Unicredit Group, Milan, Italy; Collection SOCIÉTÉ GÉNÉRALE, France; Fotografiska Museet, Stockholm, Sweden and Fondation Ariane de Rothschild, Madrid, Spain.
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