Chinese Artist Liu Bolin Vanishes Into His Works Filled With Political and Social Commentary
August 1, 2018


It was in 2005 that Liu Bolin initially became invisible, as a sign of silent protest when the Beijing artists’ village where he worked was demolished as part of the restructuring for the 2008 Olympics. He faded into the ruins by camouflaging himself using acrylic paints without any digital manipulation, posing motionless for hours, eyes closed, his silhouette barely visible, then immortalized the performance through photography, which became the first of his Hiding in the City series. Rather than passively vanishing, he made himself disappear as an active expression of resistance in a work mixing body art, optical art, living sculpture and photography, showing the powerlessness felt by a city’s anonymous inhabitants.

Since then, he has painstakingly painted himself into supermarket shelves, newsstands, a wall of Communist Party propaganda slogans, a portrait of Mao, the Great Wall of China and the Louvre Pyramid with French artist JR, and appropriated da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Picasso’s Guernica using multiple human subjects as his canvas that were then posted online in targeted Google image search results as his way of hacking the art world.

He has created futuristic heads made from electronic circuits and copper wires concealing video cameras, where it is not the visitor who views the art, but the art that is looking at the viewer, live-streamed Beijing’s smog from 24 cell phones attached to an orange lifejacket he wore, and created a giant iron fist sculpture facing downwards in opposition to the revolutionary symbol of the fist raised towards the sky, as part of the political and social commentary that pervades his art, tackling issues like consumerism, financial power and pollution.

The artist from Binzhou, Shandong Province, who made his own toys as a child, studied sculpture at art school and whose creations are closely intertwined with a rapidly-modernising China, turned his attention this year to Ruinart in its latest annual artist collaboration that continues the longstanding relationship between the Reims-based champagne house and the art world. After a 10-day residency at Maison Ruinart, he carried out eight photo-performances, carefully selecting the different sites, the Ruinart employees who would vanish into his photos, the lighting, composition and perspective, then his team of three assistants helped him to paint the costumes, faces, hair and hands, before getting into position for the photo-taking. In one artwork, he hid amidst green vines with Ruinart’s cellar master Frédéric Panaïotis, then got lost with him in a sea of champagne bottles. “I think this was the most difficult photograph I have ever produced because I had to paint both the front and back of my body due to the mirrors and reflections, which is a first for me,” he says. “There is a loss of bearings in this photo that I love most of all. You wonder what you are seeing, and if it is reality or a projection of reality. That’s how the Maison Ruinart draws you in.”

“I’ve always been fascinated by people who produce,” Liu remarks. “In my mind, they are the ones who make the world go around. In 2006, I created an image with Chinese workers, which was a memorable experience. I found the same relationship here. Taking a photograph with four models is never easy, but they remained completely focused on their tool. The mood for this image verges on science fiction.” One artwork could take from hours to days to paint, depending on the complexity of the backdrop. Like a game of hide-and-seek, viewers are tricked into believing there is nobody there, when in fact there is someone hiding in plain sight. “I decided to vanish into the world around me,” Liu concludes. “Some say I disappeared into the landscape; I say that the environment took hold of me.”