Known worldwide as the Invisible Man, Liu Bolin is a Chinese artist who has achieved international fame through his extraordinary artistic performances. His ability to disappear and seamlessly blend into urban landscapes and sterile environments is unparalleled. His latest exhibition, titled “(IN)VISIBLE: The Art of Liu Bolin,” was inaugurated with a live performance by the artist on September 30th and is open to the public at Villa Ciani in Lugano until October 15, 2023. This exhibition marks the beginning of a significant collaboration between the artist and the Deodato Arte Gallery, which will exclusively represent Liu Bolin in Switzerland and Belgium. All the works on display at Villa Ciani are limited editions and are part of the renowned Hiding in the City collection, which explores universal themes such as the relationship between humans and nature, as well as the interplay between individual thought and political power. This collection has solidified Liu Bolin’s position as one of the most significant artists of his generation on a global scale. For this occasion, we traveled to Lugano and had the opportunity to meet Liu Bolin to learn more about his artistic journey.
The magic of Liu Bolin’s art lies in total body painting, a process that demands extraordinary precision in the application of paint. Through this technique, the artist manages to completely blend into the surrounding environment, becoming an integral part of the scene that envelops him. The results are striking, photographs that appear to challenge human perception. However, beneath this incredible technique lies a profound message. Liu Bolin uses his mimetic ability to denounce the condition of modern man, an individual at risk of losing their identity in an increasingly materialistic and technological society. His works are not just expressions of artistic skill but also a form of protest against the rampant spread of technology and the resulting alienation of the individual.
Your performances, which involve disappearing into the landscape through body painting, have a strong theatrical as well as conceptual component. Can it be said that they are genuine acts of protest against the individual’s identity gradually vanishing within their own habitat?
«I have gone through four stages since 2005. The first stage was questioning and rebelling. I must use this work to express my protest, and let more people to pay attention to our artists as a group. In the second stage, I think that a lot of artists, not only Chinese, they have same experience as me, I took a lot of publicity slogans. More the problems in the development of China were reflected in this stage and process. There were a lot of economic development problems in the food, urbanization and a series of issues had be expressed too. The third stage almost happened at the same time as the second stage. I had the opportunities to go abroad to shoot some works, did some my exhibitions. I realized that I was not only Chinese. Every nation, every culture has their own problems. Itself, because of human’s desire, the new social problems would appear. Such as the economic crisis, currency, war, slums and a series of problems. The fourth change was that I slowly had my body and what I felt about this world. Now I slowly invited the local people, dozens of individuals, to participate in my works. This will make my work cause more people’s attention in the society, but also it will have more people getting involved, but also with the local culture, such as I shot some works in the United Kingdom, India. I found this conflict in local cultural. The conflict exists in local people and society will be more intense. Through their concern about this issue and it makes us think about our own, the future, how human beings think, how to look at it. I am trying to express some of the problems that we face now in the world that we live in. We have to face the problems that restrain human’s development, I try to express one of my perplexities and a worry.»
How do you choose the locations for your work? Is it based on symbolic signficance, for example, as in the shot in front of the Milan Cathedral?
«When choosing the locations, I usually choose some common scenes that constantly appear in the development process of human society as the background. Through my works, I question the mutual restriction and contradictory relationship between the civilization we create and human development. In Italy, I will choose some classic works of art or locations that I am longing for, such as Mosè, the water city of Venice, and the Milan Cathedral, which are the background of my obsession with Italian culture.»
Camouflage is your hallmark. It is surprisingly difficult to distinguish your figure between the architecture, the goods on the shelves and the scenery you choose as a backdrop. In this regard, we ask, what has been the most challenging artistic endeavour for you?
«The biggest challenge for me from the beginning of creation was how to record the process of the whole body participating in the work. In the beginning, I used the video method and time-lapse photography method to record, but after trying to confirm the final method to record and realize the final freeze photo. In addition, I studied sculpture before, and I am not good at photography. I also need to learn how to take photos correctly while doing work. The whole process paid a lot of tuition fees. What impressed me most was that there were two faults in the shooting of the bird’s nest. First, because of outdoor shooting in winter, the light meter does not work because the temperature is too low, and there is no way to call and ask friends nearby how much aperture should be used; Second, after the final shooting was completed, because the distance between people and the bird’s nest in the background was too far, the focal length of the bird’s nest was not clear enough, so I could only go to the same place again on the third day.»
Liu Bolin is an artist who invites us to reflect on our relationship with the world around us and the importance of maintaining our identity in an era dominated by technology and consumerism. His ability to disappear before our eyes is a call to look more closely at the world around us and to reflect on how we can preserve our humanity in an increasingly impersonal world.
Ph Credits Andrés Juan Suarez