“I decided to melt into the environment. Some will say that I disappear into the background; I would say that it’s the environment that has taken hold of me.”
For Liu Bolin, disappearing is a form of protest. His mastery of the art of camouflage has led to him being known as ‘the invisible man’ or ‘the chameleon artist’. It is a form of protest that is both silent and tenacious. On 16 November 2005, as part of the restructuring of the capital ahead of the Olympic Games, the Chines authorities demolished the village of Suo Jiacun, where Liu Bolin’s art studio was located, and expelled inhabitants from the village. The series Hiding in the City opens with a self-portrait of a motionless Liu Bolin, covered in paint, mixed up with the ruins of his art studio as a sign of silent protest. The work is perfect, the illusion troubling. The image was to mark the beginning of a new artistic genre.
Posing sometimes for hours in front of a wall, some countryside or a monument, Liu Bolin manages to melt completely into the décor without any digital manipulation thanks to the help of his apprentice painters. At the end of the camouflaging process, the photograph fixes the performance by creating an apparently playful image but one that in reality has a deeper message embedded in it. That is why his suprising ‘photo performances’ are always produced in places that are highly symbolic. Hence his famous picture of a supermarket shelf filled with imported drinks cans, criticising excessive consumerism (Hiding in the City 93), or his disappearance behind the bricks of the Great Wall of China (Hiding in the City 91), showing China’s thousand-year history.
In Lu Bolin’s work the barely visible human silhouette, with eyes shut, represents a totally isolated individual. But a few rare images feature the presence of some other characters, such as the policeman (Hiding in the City 17), a symbol of authority, or a family that disappears in front of the red flag of the Popular Republic of China (Hiding in the City 54).
A graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts of Shandong, Liu Bolin trained as a sculptor in the first instance. Among the sculptures on display, the imposing Iron Fist was to act as a counterpoint to the worrying red characters of the Red Hands series.