Liu Bolin’s Ever-Evolving Camouflaging and Art Hacking


For its final show of 2016, Klein Sun Gallery presented artist Liu Bolin, who is known in the art world and online for his photographic self-portraits in which he meticulously paints himself to blend into various backgrounds.  Featuring a trio of invigorated camouflage works and Liu’s foray into Post-Internet Art, Art Hacker reminds us that Liu is more than his sobriquet “The Invisible Man.”

In early camouflage works, Liu was the sole subject.  The settings into which he disappeared became increasingly intricate as he continued use of this technique to convey the theme of something hiding beneath the visible.  Later, other people were incorporated into the photographs.  All the while, he and the other chameleons were expressionless in every photograph and at one with the scene.

The re-creations of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Picasso’s Guernica shown in Art Hacker impressively advance his trademark method and are technical and artistic breakthroughs.  The palette of people are no longer props in a scene but instead make up the image and are camouflaged in a way that is much more textured than in earlier works.

Mona Lisa, 2016. Archival pigment print, 78 3/4 x 54 1/4 in (200 x 138 cm)

Posed as if they could be a scene of their own, the people add a humanity to the images through their gazes and facial expressions.

Guernica, 2016. Archival pigment print, 43 1/2 x 98 3/8 in. (111 x 250 cm)

While many of his images have carried social commentary on topics such as consumerism or pollution, Liu boldly visits the devastating 2015 Tianjin explosion, coverage of which was censored by the government, with an interpretation of a bleak photograph of a lot full of burned-out cars.  Whereas the people who make up Liu’s Guernica mimic the horror of the scene, those in Tianjin Explosions are like ghosts resigned to haunting the vehicular graveyard.

Tianjin Explosions, 2016. Archival pigment print, 49 1/4 x 98 3/8 in. (125 x 250 cm)

Playing the “art hacker”, Liu replaced on various websites images of the original counterparts with his versions (see here, herehere, and the press release for a listing of sites).  It is a particularly ironic subversion given how popular Liu is online.

Liu has always required us to look closely at the camouflage works and past what is most visibly apparent.  These swaps question how perceptive people are.  Not all of the sites give notice of the substitute image.  Once there is the realization that the image is not of the actual artwork, do we accept that it is “close enough”?

Although copyrights no longer apply to da Vinci’s and Picasso’s masterpieces, they apply to the original Tianjin photo by China Daily.  Thinking of this project as more than a hack or humorous prank, could re-creations be an acceptable means of working around copyright issues?

Neon URL of a site “hacked” with his work

A few of the URLs were represented in neon, raising the idea of a web address being both permanent and temporary and a sort of sign designed to lure visitors.

The exhibition also included two installations that incorporated electronics.  Livestream Vest which attaches to a life jacket smart phones with their front-facing cameras on.  The mannequin (made up of computer cables) becomes a mirror to what’s around it, helping us see ourselves.  The mess of wires of Nothing to Say show us how tangled and disoriented we’ve become in the modern age.

Although the photographs and the installations were disparate in form, Liu’s interest in perception and his commentary on the interaction of people and their environment unified the show.  Art Hacker showed the artist building on his ideas and should stir a new appreciation for Liu.

Liu Bolin, Livestream Vest, 2016 Lifejacket, USB cables, smart phones and iron stand, 73 5/8 x 24 x 10 5/8 inches (187 x 61 x 27 cm)

Nothing to Say, 20 Fiberglass, charger wires, ink mounted on aluminum, 46 7/8 x 59 x 12 5/8 inches (119 x 150 x 32 cm)

Art Hacker was on view at Klein Sun Gallery November 17 – December 23, 2016.

The article has been updated from its original post.

Photos courtesy of Klein Sun Gallery.