Liu Bolin, aka “The Invisible Man,” is widely known for using his own body to create an ongoing series of dynamic camouflage artworks. It all started in 2013 when the Chinese government tore down establishments in a small village where his studio was located. Bolin photographed himself standing in front of destroyed walls — completely camouflaged — as if the artist disappeared right into them. It’s a way for Bolin to let the government know that they’re not only razing buildings to the ground but more importantly, obliterating a place filled with valuable art created by humankind. Since then, Bolin has utilized body art, photography and live performance to raise awareness of societal issues.
One of his more notable projects is with celebrated champagne house Ruinart. Last year, the artist paid a visit to the company’s decades-old vineyards, having developed a series of eight photographs that feature the artist and winemakers camouflaged in varying backdrops. We touched base with Bolin at Art Basel 2018 in Miami and shadowed his process of how he transforms himself into “The Invisible Man.”
Watch the behind-the-scenes video below alongside an exclusive Q&A where Bolin intimately describes his current and past body art transformations.
I prefer to choose backgrounds that can relate to the concept of creation and civilization of humans.
You’re renowned all over the world for your camouflage art. When did you start and why do you choose to use your body as the core of your work?
The name of this artwork is called Hide in the city. I started in 2005 and I started to have this idea based on the World Trade Center 9/11 disaster in New York. It gave me a very strong feeling like an artist, like the fall of human civilization or the shatter of a human body and the feeling of the disappearance of life. It made me reflect a lot on how fragile and small our physical flesh bodies are throughout the history of human civilization especially during wars. Since then, I began trying to express human issues in society with my own body.
From start to finish, describe the process of your camouflage art installations and performances. What are some of the challenges that you face in this medium?
From the creative process of my work, the most important thing is the selection of my background because I want to present the connection between the background and the disappearance of my body into it. I prefer to choose backgrounds that can relate to the concept of creation and civilization of humans. After I have made my decision on the background I will use, usually, I have assistants who help to paint my body and slowly allow me to blend into my background. They must find a way to paint the part of the background which my body is blocking onto my body so during this whole process it’s very important that I stay completely still and try my best to cooperate with the painters so they can finish their work as soon as possible.
My dream was to be a soldier, but the funny thing is I actually became a soldier through my art.
Not only are you the subject of your work but oftentimes, you’re also the painter. Which do you enjoy more?
I’m 46 years old, it’s been about 33 years since the first day I studied painting. I consider myself very lucky to have chosen the career that I love and do it well enough to support my life. I enjoy the entire process of my art, both painting, and performing, and connecting it to my life.
Aside from creating dynamic works of art, what is an interesting fact about yourself that many people don’t know about you? Any interesting hobbies?
In the period of time from my high school to university, I was faced with the decision between going to university or joining the military. My dream was to be a soldier, but the funny thing is I actually became a soldier through my art. In my Hide in the city piece, I had to wear a military uniform and stand for long periods of time just like a soldier would, with military posture and all. I can say I’m very lucky as I have completed my dream in a way through this performance.
Apart from art I enjoy doing exercise and keeping my body in shape also because my body is usually the centerpiece of my artwork. At my age it is quite easy to become overweight but I am constantly trying to keep in shape through sports and exercise in order to extend the life of my artwork.