Liu Bolin. Visible Invisible

In the era of the selfie, in which the image of the world is multiplied on the web as a backdrop and setting of an increasingly narcissistic and homologating ego, the Chinese artist Liu Bolin (Shandong, 1973) found his characteristic expressive tool in the opposite process. In his mimetic performances, thanks to a hyper-realistic body painting, his body is fully integrated with the background: hiding, becoming a thing among things, is a means to show that all places and all objects have a soul in which one can camouflage and vanish to identify oneself with the Whole, as suggested by Eastern philosophies. His chameleonic self-portraits, which made him famous worldwide as the “invisible man”, explore the complexity and contradictions of global society with an approach that, through wonder and awe, brings out a critical view of the aporias of the our present.

Visible invisible, a personal exhibition that the MUDEC in Milan in collaboration with the Boxart gallery dedicates to Liu Bolin – in the new area dedicated to photography, in a building opposite the main entrance of the museum – brings together about 50 large format photographic prints belonging to various projects addressed by the artist in recent years, each focusing on a different theme. The perfection of the images, in which the optical illusion is obtained thanks to an accurate design phase in which nothing is left to chance, is the result of an interesting integration between painting and photography, whose roles seem to become osmotic and interchangeable.

The creative adventure of Liu Bolin begins in 2005 with the series Hiding in the city, born as a manifesto of rebellion against the Chinese authority that at that time was demolishing his studio in Suojia arts camp – the village of independent artists where he resided – to make room for building speculation without bothering to irreversibly cancel important testimonies of the tradition and identity of a nation. On that occasion the artist camouflages himself for the first time to demonstrate his belonging to that place with an emblematic gesture.

The operation then continues with Hiding in the rest of the world, a real initiatory journey into the introjection of the world, which also includes Hiding in Italy (2008-2019), his personal journey to Italy that somehow recalls the Grand Tour of Goethian memory, the long journey in continental Europe undertaken by young European aristocrats from the seventeenth century to learn about the politics, culture, art and antiquities of the countries they passed through. For Bolin, China and Italy embody the two cradles of Asian and European culture and the centuries-old respect that in particular Italy lends to the preservation of history is in its eyes the antidote against the cultural dissipation that the exasperated modernization is causing in China. The comparison also suggests an implicit hypothesis of complementarity between the eastern and the western vision, in which the confrontation and the knowledge start from the “putting oneself in the shoes of the others” that the artist interprets in a literal way.

In the Shelves cycle, on the other hand, Bolin portrays himself in front of long stretches of supermarket shelves crammed with colorful canned food and vegetables, creating an iconic, obsessive and all-encompassing image of our compulsive need to possess to be, which ends up identifying and cancel the differences between product and consumer, bringing to the extreme the ideological and aesthetic intuitions of American pop art.

In the Migrants cycle – a subject particularly important for MUDEC – where Liu Bolin involved as a performer a group of refugees from some reception centers in Sicily, the identification with the background expresses the depersonalization of the individual and a crowd, whose only face becomes that of despair and social denunciation materialized in an expanse of almost indistinguishable bodies that merge with the sand of the shore on which they have just landed. In this case the playful and illusionistic aspect of the camouflage gives way to the inescapable presence of a human mass studded with eyes that fix those of the observer without granting him any moral mitigation.


Liu Bolin. Visible Invisible
15 May – 15 September 2019
Mudec – Museo delle Culture
via Tortona 56, Milano

Suojia Village 2005 Courtesy Boxart, Verona © Liu Bolin

Italy Magazine 2012 Courtesy Boxart, Verona © Liu Bolin

Colosseo n° 2 2017 Courtesy Boxart, Verona © Liu Bolin


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