Art TED Conferences

The invisible man: Liu Bolin at TED2013

Posted by: Thu-Huong Ha
Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Can a person disappear in plain sight? That’s the question Liu Bolin‘s remarkable works all seem to ask. The Beijing-based artist is sometimes called “The Invisible Man” because in nearly all his art, Bolin is front and center — and completely unseen. Bolin aims to draw attention to social and political issues by dissolving into the background of his work.

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Photo: Courtesy Eli Klein Fine Art

When Bolin works, he stands as still as he can for as long as he can against the background he plans to disappeared into. He wears a suit, and his assistants paint over the suit and his face. When the camera is placed directly in front of him he appears indistinguishable from the scene behind him. A simple painting takes 3 to 4 hours. Something as complicated as “Supermarket,” below, takes 3 to 4 days. There is no Photoshop involved.

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Photo: Courtesy Eli Klein Fine Art

Between 1998 and 2000, 21 million people in China were laid off during China’s great economic transition to a market economy. In his piece “Laid Off,” Bolin poses six of those laid-off workers against a green-and-white wall, disappearing them into the factory where they worked for their entire lives. Above them a slogan from the Cultural Revolution reads: “The communist period is the thriving force behind our cause.”

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Photo: Courtesy Eli Klein Fine Art

As he says, “The attitude of the artist is more important than the content of the creation. It’s life’s struggles, not necessarily artistic skills, that touch people. The process of each life struggle is what we call art, regardless of its form.”

Liu Bolin’s talk is now available for viewing. Watch it here»