Global Issues

Look closer at this collage of flags. You may just find a familiar face

The future starts now: Chinese artist Liu Bolin’s latest work, ‘The Future,’ has him blending into a collage of flags to raise awareness for the UN’s Global Goals. "I hope that through this work, more and more people will become aware of how serious the issues we face are," he says. Photo: Getty Images, courtesy of the UN

Artist Liu Bolin’s latest work, “The Future,” shows him blending into a collage of flags, to raise awareness for the UN’s Global Goals. “I hope that through this work, more people will become aware of how serious the issues we face are,” he said. Photo: Getty Images, courtesy of the UN

You might know artist Liu Bolin by his outline. He paints himself to disappear into backgrounds, becoming a ghost-like presence in his images. (Watch his TED Talk, “The invisible man.”) It’s a trick of the eye designed to make a point. In his latest piece, “The Future,” he aims to raise awareness about the United Nations’ Global Goals.

The Global Goals pick up where the Millennium Development Goals left off. (For more, watch the talk “Let’s crowdsource the world’s goals.”) The Millennium goals had a deadline of 2015 and focused on eight actions for developing countries. The Global Goals broaden out from there with 17 goals for all countries, from “No Hunger” to “Innovation and Infrastructure” to “Climate Action.”

In “The Future,” Bolin melts into the flags of the 193 UN countries whose leaders will officially adopt the Global Goals at UN headquarters in New York on September 25, 2015. Dotted among the flags are graphic representations of the goals themselves.

“The piece aims to make people think about the future of human beings,” said Bolin. “Art cannot change the future, of course, but it can touch the present. I hope that through this work, more and more people will become aware of how serious the issues we face are.”

At the TED Conference in spring 2013, Bolin gave a behind-the-scenes look at how he and his team create images like this, in a meticulous process that reminds us of paint-by-numbers kits. (Watch a timelapse of how he disappeared into the TED stage.) Below, enjoy a glimpse at the making of “The Future.”

Liu Bolin showed exactly how he disappears into images at TED2013. One trick: a prosthetic facepiece is painted to create the full illusion. Even his hair gets a colorful treatment. Photo: Getty Images, courtesy of the UN

One trick Liu Bolin uses to disappear into backgrounds? A peel-off face mask. Even his hair gets painted. Photo: Getty Images, courtesy of the UN

Liu Bolin used a wall in his Beijing studio to create 'The Future.' Even without the backdrop, he is an artistic vision. Photo: Getty Images, courtesy of the UN

Liu Bolin used a wall in his Beijing studio to create “The Future.” Here, he gauges camera alignment on the photo set. Photo: Getty Images, courtesy of the UN

In an assistant's hand, a glimpse at the process used to make Liu Bolin blend perfectly into a background. The key? A scale image to show what's behind him. Photo: Getty Images, courtesy of the UN

An assistant holds paint tubs and a scale image for reference. It lets the team visualize what’s behind Liu Bolin, so they can paint his outerwear just so. Photo: Getty Images, courtesy of the UN

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