The Chinese artist Liu Bolin stands motionless against a bookshelf piled floor to ceiling with magazines. A group of painters take turns applying bits of paint and carefully covering his hair with white streaks of acrylic. Periodically, they glance at the magazine covers behind their “canvas” and shuffle back to their living subject. A crowd looks on, smartphones capturing every moment of the Chinese artist’s in situ performance.
After four hours of painting over the artist’s entire body, Bolin receives final instruction from his official photographer to move slightly to the left, so that the human canvas is perfectly aligned with the background. Then one singular moment is captured in high resolution.
Born in China’s Shandong province (1975), Bolin has been “hiding out” in galleries and on street corners as part of an ongoing creative project known as the “Invisible Man.” Each installation, whether it be in a New York gallery, an oft-photographed public square or a famed cultural institution such as La Scala opera house in Milan, is startling for its ability to capture a living subject blend in with the backdrop, almost undetected.
Many of Bolin’s captured moments have taken place in his native China, where the artist merged with the bricks of the Great Wall and the thatched architecture of Beijing’s Olympic stadium.
Bolin’s first image for what has become known as the “Hiding in the City” series was taken back in 2005 after the artist was evicted from his Beijing studio by Chinese authorities. Needing a place to work, Bolin began using the metropolis as his backdrop and, in doing so, challenging viewers with his interpretation of identity and image in modern-day China.
In an interview with TED, Bolin remarked that part of his motivation in making himself invisible is to “question the contradictory relationship which exists with civilization and its development.”
“Hiding in the City” opened up opportunities for Bolin to challenge notions of the artist within art all over the world. As both the performer and artist, he must meticulous plan each tableaux as well as trust a team of hired painters to execute his vision.
But that seems a small price to pay for the artistic freedom afforded by the “Hiding in the City” exhibition, for now Bolin is able to work on theme projects, such as his collaboration with fashion designers Missoni, Valentino, Lanvin and Jean Paul Gaultier on the Harper’s Bazaar photo extravaganza titled “Lost in Fashion.”
Bolin came to Bogotá in October at the invitation of La Cometa Gallery to exhibit a selection of his photographs entitled “Mimesis.” In 25 glossy prints, visitors search for the “invisible” Bolin. Scenes vary from some of the most recognizable places such as the New York City waterfront to lesser known locations. In one, he becomes “lost” in an abandoned factory, another in a bulldozer. But like the game “Where’s Waldo?” one element of Bolin’s work cannot be overlooked: Inspiring artists cannot be found everywhere. “Mimesis” can be seen at La Cometa Gallery until Nov. 29. Don’t miss him.
La Cometa Gallery, Cra. 10, No. 94A-25