Liu Bolin recreates classic masterpieces by painting camouflage onto human subjects.
Exploring the online environment, Liu Bolin questions concepts of illusion and reality.
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 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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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- “Bentu: Chinese artists in a time of turbulence and transformation” at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris – in pictures – March 2016 – at the heart of the concept of “Bentu” lies the notion that cultural practitioners in China today are conducting a process of critical discovery of their identity, through a reconciliation of the local and the global
- ‘Invisible Man’ Liu Bolin in the spotlight for UN Global Goals campaign – September 2015 – Chinese artist Liu Bolin, known as ‘The Invisible Man’, paints himself seamlessly into the 193 flags of the world to raise awareness for the 17 United Nations Global Goals
- “28 Chinese” spotlights China’s contemporary greats – in pictures – June 2015 – “28 Chinese” at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum features iconic works of some of the best contemporary artists from China today from the Rubell Collection
- Chinese women artists explore humanity’s relationship with nature – in pictures – May 2015 – Beijing’s Italian Center exhibition exploring the relationship between humans and nature features five Chinese women artists, also to be taking part in an exhibition at Milan EXPO 2015
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