As a child (and still today) I was/am a huge fan of the Where’s Wally series. So coming across Liu Bolin’s work for the first time this year, I was instantly drawn to the similar challenge it invited of finding hidden figures. Bolin is more commonly and aptly known as the “Invisible Man” due to his incredible talent of blending into the backgrounds and settings of his works – in some cases, he is completely unseen despite being in the absolute foreground. Presenting a talk at a TED conference in February 2013 (just under 8 minutes long and really worth watching!), the Chinese artist explained that physically disappearing into his art gave him the opportunity to consider the “contradictory and often inter-cancelling” relationship between civilisation and its development. Through these images Bolin was able to emphasise the social and political issues inherent in China today, using his works as a platform to speak for those made invisible by the Chinese government – whether by consumer culture or by circumstances of history.
In the talk, Bolin refers to his 2005 ‘Hiding in the City’ collection as a “reflective…series of protests”, highlighting its powerful and intentionally thought-provoking nature. The images came about after Chinese police destroyed the artist’s village of Suo Jia Cun, as the government attempted to discourage communities of artists working and living together. In retaliation, Bolin and his assistants painted his clothes, face, and hair to blend into the background of his torn down studio. Since then, the “Invisible Man” can be found fading into scenes set all over Beijing. The objective being that “just as with Bolin himself, the contradictions and confusing narratives of China’s post-Cultural Revolution society are often hiding in plain sight”.