Sunday, August 21, 2011

Liu Bolin

Trompe l'oeil has traditionally been concerned with creating the painted illusion that something exists in three dimensions. But what do we call it's opposite; painting on top of a three dimensional object so that it appears invisible?

Artist Liu Bolin has been disappearing, ghost-like, into the background since 2005, as he systematically paints himself out of reality. His series, Hiding in the City, recently came to Soho in New York where he performed a disappearing act in the Eli Klein gallery that was described as "mesmerizing".

Bolin began this series as a political commentary on the tensions between the Chinese government and their people. Speaking in an interview with Yatzer, Bolin expanded on his motivation:

"After graduating from school, for a long time I had no family, no job and no love in my life. During those four years without love and income, I felt I had been dumped by this society and that I had no position within it.  I was meaningless in this environment. This is the emotional reason for starting the series. The fuse of the work was ignited on the November the 16th in 2005 at Suojia Village, which was the biggest living area for artists in Asia and it was forced to demolition by the government. I was there at that time, so I started the series i opposition to the government’s atrocity. I wanted to use my work to show that artists’ state in society and their living places had not been protected"

As a painter, I am of course interested in his process. You can get some sense of it in this video from his NY trip. Using student quality acrylics, and what appears to be a handful of assistants gathered locally, you see right away that it's not just the process that interests Bolin; it would all be meaningless without that final photograph.

Along similar lines, I always felt that the meditative aspect of Andy Goldsworthy's work, where he spends countless hours alone in the wild, is somehow undermined by the insistent intrusion of the camera. (There are some striking similarities between their work, specifically in the case of the Shadow pieces, below). Although I am a huge fan of both artists, I have the hollow feeling sometimes that the work is created solely for the camera lens. In a way, it's less about the performance process than it is about creating a gallery-worthy commodity.

I admit to holding onto a ridiculous Romantic notion of the Artist as some sort of Aesthete laboring alone in a garret, compelled by an inner fire, with no egoism, conscious thought or hopes of praise or reward. Boy is my face red.

Liu Bolin, Left, and Andy Goldsworthy, Right
Questions of authorship [who actually is the artist here? the photographer who clicks the shutter, the assistants who do the painting, or the man himself who stands still for hours? Does it matter?] can be neatly side-stepped in his political thesis: this is a comment on the nature of the individual in Chinese Culture, after all.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Bolin "was the fourth most searched among contemporary and modern artists on the site Artnet, beating Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons. (The American photographer Sally Mann came in first.)"

His rise in popularity is reflected in the cost of his work. "The photos are sold in limited editions for $6,000 to $12,000—about 30% higher than a few years ago, according to gallery owner Eli Klein."

Liu Bolin will be exhibiting at Eli Klein Fine Art  in New York from June 29 - September 28, 2011

Liu Bolin created this piece for a UNICEF campaign in China