“Art Hacker”: Chinese artist Liu Bolin at Klein Sun Gallery New York – in pictures

Liu Bolin recreates classic masterpieces by painting camouflage onto human subjects.

Exploring the online environment, Liu Bolin questions concepts of illusion and reality.

Installation of "Art Hacker” by Liu Bolin at Klein Sun Gallery, 17 November to 23 December 2016. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

Liu Bolin, “Art Hacker”, 17 November – 23 December 2016, installation view at Klein Sun Gallery. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

From 17 November to 23 December 2016 Klein Sun Gallery presents the work of Chinese artist Liu Bolin. The solo exhibition “Art Hacker” explores the borders and new territories of the virtual world.

Liu Bolin, "Art Hacker”, 17 November - 23 December 2016, installation view at Klein Sun Gallery. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

Liu Bolin, “Art Hacker”, 17 November – 23 December 2016, installation view at Klein Sun Gallery. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

Born in 1973 in Shandong province China, Liu Bolin studied fine arts at Shandong College of Arts and a Masters of Fine Arts at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. He became known as ‘The Invisible Man’ for his work in which he painted himself to merge into backgrounds until he became almost invisible. This work emerged out of an investigation into the tense relationship between the individual and society due to rapid economic development in the decades after the Cultural Revolution in China.

Liu Bolin, "Art Hacker”, 17 November - 23 December 2016, installation view at Klein Sun Gallery. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

Liu Bolin, “Art Hacker”, 17 November – 23 December 2016, installation view at Klein Sun Gallery. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

Liu Bolin, 'Tianjin Explosions', 2016, archival pigment print, 125 x 250 cm, edition of 8 + 2APs. Photo: © Liu Bolin. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

Liu Bolin, ‘Tianjin Explosions’, 2016, archival pigment print, 125 x 250 cm, edition of 8 + 2APs. Photo: © Liu Bolin. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

Liu Bolin uses performance, photography and social activism in order to investigate contemporary issues in society. For example, in 2015 he participated in The Global Goals, supported by the United Nations, which addressed development goals. The work involved Liu Bolin painting himself into the 193 flags of the world.

Liu Bolin, 'Guernica', 2016, archival pigment print, 43 1/2 x 98 3/8 inches (110.6 x 250 cm), edition of 8 + 2APs. Photo: © Liu Bolin. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

Liu Bolin, ‘Guernica’, 2016, archival pigment print, 43 1/2 x 98 3/8 inches (110.6 x 250 cm), edition of 8 + 2APs. Photo: © Liu Bolin. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

In “Art Hacker”, Liu Bolin turns his attention to the online environment. The new body of work remakes classical masterpieces, such as Picasso’s Guernica, and incorporates images from the Tianjin explosions. Liu Bolin recreates the images through hand-painted camouflage onto several human subjects. These new photographs are then hacked into various websites where Liu Bolin’s versions replace the original. In the gallery these URLs are then displayed in neon lights, questioning the transient nature of the internet. (There are also links to the URLs on the gallery’s website.)

Liu Bolin, 'The Way to Future No.6', 2016, neon lights, dimensions variable. Photo: © Liu Bolin. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

Liu Bolin, ‘The Way to Future No.6’, 2016, neon lights, dimensions variable. Photo: © Liu Bolin. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

Liu Bolin, 'Mona Lisa', 2016, archival pigment print, 200 x 137.7 cm, edition of 8 + 2APs. Photo: © Liu Bolin. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

Liu Bolin, ‘Mona Lisa’, 2016, archival pigment print, 200 x 137.7 cm, edition of 8 + 2APs. Photo: © Liu Bolin. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

Choosing Guernica as a subject, Liu Bolin is pointing out the futility of war by recalling the history of the Spanish Civil War. With Leonardo’s Mona Lisa (2016), he refers to the theft of the masterpiece and its return, endeavouring to recreate the disappearance and reappearance of the work through his own manipulation of the iconic image.

Liu Bolin, 'The Way to Future No.2', 2016, neon lights, dimensions variable. Photo: © Liu Bolin. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

Liu Bolin, ‘The Way to Future No.2’, 2016, neon lights, dimensions variable. Photo: © Liu Bolin. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

Liu Bolin, 'Mona Lisa', 2016, acrylic, textile on canvas, 357 x 255 cm. Photo: © Liu Bolin. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

Liu Bolin, ‘Mona Lisa’, 2016, acrylic, textile on canvas, 357 x 255 cm. Photo: © Liu Bolin. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

Both works ask the viewer to look beneath the surface. Looking through the URLs one can almost mistake Liu Bolin’s versions for the original, given the tendency to glance quickly and only briefly at online content. The artworks question our perception of what is real and what is an illusion.

Liu Bolin, 'Livestream Vest', 2016, lifejacket, USB cables, smart phones and iron stand, 187 x 61 x 27 cm. Photo: © Liu Bolin. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

Liu Bolin, ‘Livestream Vest’, 2016, lifejacket, USB cables, smart phones and iron stand, 187 x 61 x 27 cm. Photo: © Liu Bolin. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

In an installation in the exhibition, entitled Livestream Vest (2016), Liu Bolin attached smartphones onto a life jacket. He then turned on the front cameras for unstoppable live-streaming. He moved through the environment recording and reflecting what was going on around him. In a way, he merges into the environment mirrored on the vest, becoming almost invisible.

Liu Bolin, 'Nothing to Say', 2016, fiberglass, charger wires, ink mounted on aluminium, 119 x 150 x 32 cm. Photo: © Liu Bolin. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

Liu Bolin, ‘Nothing to Say’, 2016, fiberglass, charger wires, ink mounted on aluminium, 119 x 150 x 32 cm. Photo: © Liu Bolin. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

The works in the exhibition explore the concept of illusion, especially in the era of online content. How do things disappear and reappear in the intangible online environment and how does this impact the circulation of information? By referring to past masterpieces and painting them physically onto people, he engages with both the online and offline worlds, questioning aspects of power and autonomy in today’s networked society.

Claire Wilson

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Related topics: Chinese artists, painting, performance, photography, portraiture, activist art, contemporary art as soft power, globalisation of art, gallery shows

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