His body resembles “camouflage”, thereby making Liu Bolin both present and absent in each photograph. These cleverly orchestrated images have earned him the name, the invisible man. However, the story of how these images came about is less than lighthearted.
In 2005, the Chinese government ordered the demolition of the Beijing International Art Camp (BIAC), also known as Suojiacun Artists’ Village, which housed several studios, including Liu Bolin’s. According to Liu Bolin, “even though the contemporary art scene in Beijing was developing rapidly at that time, the government decided that it did not want artists like us to live and work together.” In response to the demolition, Curator Zhang Zhaohui organized the exhibition Demolish! Demolish! Demolish! which included over 100 artists. The artists were invited to make works from the wreckage. According to Zhang Zhaohui, “The exhibition voiced the strength of the artists. Even though their studios were destroyed, the artists’ spirits would live on.” Liu Bolin’s contribution to the exhibition was entitled Hidden Demolition. It depicted Liu Bolin’s body painted to camouflage with the rubble. It was the first photograph that would later develop into the series of camouflage images exhibited at Fotografiska.
Camouflage, in the animal world, is used as an adaptive tool, a way to protect against predatory attacks. So why does Liu Bolin feel compelled to use paint to create the illusion of camouflage? Are Liu Bolin’s images a method for expressing the violation of his artistic freedom in China? He maintains that his art is a protest against the actions of the Chinese government, who is known for censoring their artists. Included in the exhibition is a work where Liu Bolin has camouflaged himself into the so-called “Bird’s Nest”, namely Beijing’s National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics. The stadium was created in consultation with renowned Chinese artist and architect Ai Weiwei. In April 2011, Ai Weiwei was taken into custody by Chinese authorities due to a wider government crackdown on critics of the communist regime. Liu Bolin inadvertently reiterated the tense relationship between Ai Weiwei and the government with this photograph, an image taken years before Ai Weiwei’s arrest. Liu Bolin’s work invites a discourse on the censorship and oppression outspoken contemporary artists are often confronted with in China. According to Zhang Zhaohui, Liu Bolin’s Hiding in the City series reflects Beijing’s political and cultural climate.
Liu Bolin (1973- ) was born in Shandong province where he completed his Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Shandong Arts Institute. He moved to Beijing in 1999, where he studied sculpture with Sui Jiangou at the Central Academy of Fine Arts. He graduated with a Master of Fine Arts in 2005. Although he studied sculpture, Liu, like many artists in China, frequently experiments with various mediums and techniques. Since his graduation, he has won international acclaim with his debut series Hiding in the City.
-Curator Michelle Marie Roy