Invisible in Public

Liu Bolin, painted in a New York grocery store

I stumbled across this article and was instantly intrigued. An artist, Liu Bolin, strategically places himself against backgrounds in the real world, then stands for hours on end as his assistants paint him into the background. The result is the stunningly invisible shape of a man just distinguishable in the picture above.

The article states that Bolin’s body-painting began a few years out of college as a visualization of a sense he had of loneliness, without love or family. This early idea has led to a career of these paintings, recently earning him an exhibition of photos in New York.

Something about this man’s work compels me incredibly. I thought first of the idea of the “invisible” actor, a phrase used by Yoshi Oida in his work (and occasionally mentioned in Elaine Vaan Hogue’s acting class). The idea of the invisible actor is that instead of showing the audience his performance, he shows them the image of the object they should see. For example, the first kind of actor would talk about the moon and you would see him talking about the moon. The second actor would talk about the moon and you would see the moon. As I looked through Bolin’s work online, I become struck that due to his invisibility he assumes Bolin actually casts light on the space behind him. Literally, he allows the image to be shown through him. And in his pictures I find myself looking more closely at what the world itself is. I hope that as I make my art I can keep this idea in mind — to let go of ego and focus instead and allowing the world to show through me.

It also reminds me of Viewpoints, a method of thinking about movement that breaks it down into nine categories. One of those categories is architecture. Bolin’s pictures, so much about blending in and the vague shape of the human body, capture the idea of Viewpoints perfectly for me. By placing his own body alongside the images, the backgrounds he paints, he allows for a deeper awareness of both the architecture of the world and the architecture of the human body itself.

Though I am not a painter, and probably never will be, Bolin’s work reminds me that we can always rethink our art, create new forms. There is something strikingly modern and almost disturbing about some of Bolin’s pictures, especially the ones done in grocery stores. My eye is immediately struck by the rows of space-age soda bottles, and only second does it discover the outline of the man against it. A wall of soda, and a man invisible in the middle of it. What better metaphor for crushing rise of consumerism, the dominance of corporations, the diminishing of individual importance? And best of all, Bolin captures all these themes without ever saying a word, without any headlines or banners. His work is cutting, yet subtle. I hope that in my theatrical work I will be able to achieve such levels of artistry, subtlety, and creativity as this man.

Even if it means becoming a bit invisible.

One Comment

kmjiang posted on September 27, 2011 at 2:32 am

this is the coolest goddamn thing i have ever seen.


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