Liu Bolin: Boundless Art of The Invisible Man


Chinese artist Liu Bolin has been disappearing for years now. Using his own body as a canvas, painting himself into the background, Bolin creates scenes that are statements about our relationship to our surrounding world. Bolin is not looking for a way to disappear as an individual but insists on the damages caused by the economic and urban development on the individuals. This is a kind of silent hold where the human being loses his capacity to integrate

“Disappearing is not the main point of my work, it’s just the method I use to pass on a message… It’s my way to convey all the anxiety I feel for human beings.”

The invisible man’s most popular works are from his “Hiding in the City” series; photographic works that began as performance art in 2005.

The series obscures the artist by way of paint as camouflage, a “silent protest” as a form of social and political critique of his country’s practices in the years since its Cultural Revolution.

Liu was moved to create his “Hiding in the City” series after the Chinese Beijing artist village Suo Jia Cun in November 2005. At the time of this destruction, Liu Bolin had been working in Suo Jia Cun, which had been previously named Asia’s largest congregation of artists. Prompted by his emotional response to the demolition of this site, Liu decided to use his art as a means of silent protest, calling attention to the lack of protection Chinese artists had received from their own government. Through the use of his own body in his practice of painting himself into various settings in Beijing, Liu created a space for the Chinese artist, preserving their social status and highlighting their often troubled relationship with their physical surroundings.

In his work, Liu has always given special attention to the various social problems that accompany China’s rapid economic development, making social politics the crux of his pictorial commentaries. In “Hiding in the City”, Liu made one of his particular focuses slogans as an educational tool used within Communist societies, pointing out that many people become used to the slogans over time and cease to pay conscious attention to these messages’ effects on the public’s thinking. By painting his body into some such slogans, Liu forces the viewer to acknowledge the messages and, in the process, to reconsider the circumstances of one’s own life.

Liu Bolin filled his Beijing series of “Hiding in the City” with two other series captured in Venice and New York City. The reason Liu chose Venice was its significance within the Western art tradition. He also chose New York City for the potency of the underlying conflicts between humans and the objects they create. In service to this project, Liu painted himself into such socially-loaded backgrounds as Wall Street and the Tiles for America 9/11 memorial.

The “Hiding in the City” series has inspired similar subsequent series such as”Shadow”, which draws on the same concept of the helplessness of the individual.

I would like to note how representative Liu’s works are of Eastern collectivistic cultures. Most of the modern western artists today focus on the separation of an individual from the environment, both social and natural. They tend to emphasize the individuality; the force and potency of individuals, the beauty of being oneself and standing out. Liu, on the other hand, shows the power of the surroundings over an individual and how a particle may be invisible in a whole.

The problems that the artists of individualistic world raise mostly concern the impact of individuals on the environment, whereas Bolin shows that it is not a one way process and the system can sometimes prevent individuals from standing out. In a way, it is an alternative approach that might open up the eyes of those who are obsessed with single perspectives.


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