This coming week on September 11th, 2014, Chinese artist and invisible man Liu Bolin will open A Colorful World?, an exhibition of new sculptures, photographs, and lightboxes at Klein Sun Gallery in NYC. A Colorful World? is a reference to the countless multicolored advertisements and consumer goods that cloud today's understanding of oppression and injustice. Through lightboxes that speak to ideas of disappearance, detailed painted sculptures, and a continuation of his Hiding in the City series, the exhibition reveals Liu Bolin’s immense artistic versatility, as well as an expression of his revered perspective on global issues of culture, society, and politics.
Images courtesy Klein Sun Gallery, NY. © Liu Bolin
Liu Bolin: A Colorful World?
Klein Sun Gallery, NYC
September 11th - November 1st, 2014
The two lightboxes included in the show, titled MISSING, include portraits that fade in-and-out of view. The backgrounds these portraits fade into—one hundred dollar bills and junk food—contextualize their disappearance as metaphors for issues within society. As these individual’s portraits disappear in the lightbox, individuals across our world constantly disappear when they are forgotten in the unstoppable cultural pursuit of financial gain and consumer goods.
Through a masterful understanding of depth perception and intricate painting skills, Liu Bolin’s In Magazine stainless-steel sculptures camouflage a casted face into the background of more than a dozen hand-painted magazines covers. The works express Liu Bolin's thoughts on the loss of individual identity among an onslaught of commercial images like the ones found in magazines. His message suggests that as we consume these manufactured images, we begin to transform into that which we consume until we disappear into the images entirely and loose our individual identity.
Similar in technique and philosophy, Liu Bolin’s renowned Hiding in the City series touches many of the same ideas and explores an even greater depth and range of subject matter. Painting himself into the background of carefully chosen scenes, works like Cancer Village address issues that destroy lives, but remain unknown in the public realm. The largest work in the series yet, Cancer Village camouflages twenty-three individuals—who have been affected by a 100% increase in the rate of cancer-related mortality within their rural Chinese village—into a portrait of farm land with an ominously looming chemical factory in the background. The photograph exposes their plight and highlights their current position within Chinese society—that of complete invisibility and non-existence. Those who could prevent their continually increasing mortality rate choose to ignore the individuals featured in this photograph, and thereby render them invisible well before and long after the photograph was taken.
The bright painted In Junk Food fist sculptures, covered in the packaging designs of snack foods, illuminate Liu Bolin’s comprehension of oppression. Previous works like his stainless steel Fist, and the massive 7-ton iron Fist outside of the Grand Palais in Paris, craft a powerful comment on the violence and overwhelming force of oppression through their scale and materiality. In this more colorful and psychologically terrifying iteration, the painted fists elaborate on a contemporary and widely unaccepted form of oppression existent today. Commercialized goods—primarily junk food in Liu Bolin's eyes—mislead consumers into eating foods that incorporate carcinogens and ingredients that are harmful to the human body. The effect of these foods is frightening; according to the United Nations there are more than 35 million deaths per year due to diet-related illnesses like heart disease—which is astounding when juxtaposed to the number of deaths caused by cigarettes each year: 6 to 8 million. The bright and colorful packaging of these snack foods convey a lighthearted feeling of joy and happiness, but what they truly provide is hazardous to human health--all for the sake of financial gain. The In Junk Food fists reveal to viewers that colorful advertising is a vale for timeless modes of oppression that have plagued humanity for generations.
The life-size Security Check sculptures are cast from Liu Bolin’s own body, showing the artist with his arms raised—as if in a full-body scanner—and are covered in paintings of snack food packaging. They expand upon the messages of the fists, but in this form, reference a specific example of an unjust exchange that occurs daily. Use of current full-body scanners in airports across the nation requires body language that mimics surrender; the use of these scanners then requires citizens to surrender their right to privacy—all for the illusion of safety. Despite these safety efforts, the air disasters of Malaysian Airliner MH370 and MH17, as well as Algérie Flight AH5017, in recent weeks prove the security check fails at its functional purpose. Participation in the full body scanner imposes surrender, but offers little in exchange. It is oppression in action and serves as apt metaphor for the multitude of other forms of oppression in existence today. Much like the message of the fists, the colorful packaging washing over the sculpture speaks to the false claim that a security check is in fact a helpful procedure, and also ties in the idea of surrender to more commercial modes of oppression.