“I put my thinking of the whole of society and my view of the entire world into my artworks,”
Liu Bolin produces sculptures, installations, paintings, and photographs in which he critiques global societies. Though he has traveled to cities like New York and Paris for his work, he focuses principally on his native China, characterized by rampant development and consumerism. Among his best-known projects is his “Hiding in the City” series (begun 2005). Eschewing Photoshop, Liu stands in front of iconic cultural, historical, and commercial sites, camouflages himself to blend (almost) seamlessly into his surroundings, and photographs himself. The resulting images show him dissolved into shelves of junk food or the Great Wall—a Taoist vision of oneness with the world, and a warning of contemporary society’s consumptive power.
A consequence of China’s rapid economic development through industrialisation, urbanisation, and excessive consumption, is the severe deterioration of ecology and the highly polluted urban living environment. Mountains have been deforested, if not split or leveled for urban constructions; rivers have been dried if not contaminated by industrial wastes; and landscapes have been transformed beyond recognition. In particular, for urban dwellers, outdoor air pollution has recently been identified as the fourth-leading factor for premature death in China . To compensate for the destruction of nature, urban planners started designing green zones and parks amid concrete jungles made up of urban high-rises to bring a small piece of nature back to human living. Hiding in the City No. 94 – In the Woods speaks to the belated human awareness of the importance of trees, nature, and clean air, in which Liu Bolin “disappears” into a small forest in an urban park.
In 2010 Liu Bolin created the optical illusion of thousands of people who disappear (die) every year because of China’s massive coal consumption. Devoid of regulation, China’s coal mines experience regular explosions, cave-ins, and other fatal disasters. “Coal Pile is a conceptual commentary on the consequences of not only the dependence on coal, a limited resource, but the dangers that come for families who work with and use coal, ironically, to survive,” explains the artist.