by MITO HABE-EVANS
Take a look at this photo. Notice anything? Look closer.
Do you see him? Beijing-based artist Liu Bolin hides in plain sight. Literally. Wearing military fatigues painted to match the scene behind him, he hopes to get us thinking about how we are shaped by our physical, social and cultural environment.
"An individual today is more likely to be controlled by or even merged into their environment," he writes in an e-mail. With the ongoing series Hiding in the City, he wants to explore contemporary China, and to "draw people's attention to the relationship between the grand scale of cultural development and the role of a single individual."
Many of Liu Bolin's images show him standing against Chinese landmarks and walls painted with words. "Uniform thoughts and the promotion of certain educational ideas are written as slogans across the walls," he writes in an artist's statement. "In China, we get used to those slogans. I choose to camouflage my body into the environment so that people will pay more attention to the background's social property by erasing the meaning of my body as an individual."
In the U.S., a country that celebrates the individual, it's tempting to think we are above the influence of messages, either explicit or implicit, in our environment. As Liu Bolin disappears against such varied landscapes as Venetian canals, city infrastructure and shelves of soda pop, what emerges is a subtle suggestion that perhaps everything leaves a mark on us somehow.
So how does he manage to match the perspective of the scene behind him? Well, he doesn't work alone. He digitally imposes his portrait on an image of the scene so he can see what will have to be painted, and then his assistants do the actual work of painting him as he stands still, for 3 to 4 hours. "We pay attention to every single detail, every line and color," he writes.
You can watch the process in this video: