Hiding in the City


Hiding in the City – The Temple of Heaven, 2010


Hiding in New York – Magazine Rack, 2011

What is it?

A series of installation artworks by Chinese artist, Liu Bolin. Dubbed The Invisible Man, Bolin photographs himself in front and part of urban environments, his clothing and body painted with exacting patience to mimic his surrounds. A student of fine art and sculpture, he is both artist and muse, posing for anywhere between 4 and 10 hours while his assistants paint him into the cityscape.

Bolin’s works aim to reveal the tension that exists between the rulers and the ruled in China, whose people don’t always figure in their government’s relentless pursuit of economic growth. His art “represents the diminishing humanity in today’s society, a retrospective [appraisal] of culture, the environment and fast economic development.”

First seen on Unique Design Obsession, here.

What do we think?

Bolin’s photography is created with great precision, a number of cues revealing highly focussed and deliberate compositions.

First, his environments are carefully chosen, mostly urban settings with recognisable landmarks (the Great Wall of China, Wall Street, il Ponte di Rialto) or indicators of consumer culture (magazine racks, sawmills, supermarket aisles). These are places that refer to consumption and commerce. They are symbols of tourism, finance and industry. They immediately force us to reconcile his (non-)presence according to the cultural capital of his surrounds.

Second, he almost always places himself front and centre in his images, a decision that both highlights and subverts his importance within his surroundings. The former because he is like any tourist posing in front of the camera while on holiday, and the latter because he is in fact so perfectly camouflaged as to be almost invisible. That his camouflage is uni-directional i.e. only appropriate from a specific angle at a specific distance, further reinforces this duality of meaning.

And third, his process is in-situ, achieved using backdrops that are not fabricated but already exist in the world. The obviously painstaking preparation for a photo clashes with our understanding of the way his environments are normally used (hordes of tourists flocking along the Great Wall, investment bankers marching down Wall Street, consumers populating supermarkets).


Ponte di Rialto, 2010

Bolin’s work is layered fiction on top of non-fiction on top of fiction on top of non-fiction. He aims to question the costs to humanity of the capitalist machine, but offers far broader insight into the importance of places and their value in our lives. He creates worlds that are pristine in their emptiness, though should never be, and fills them with an absence both bizarre and sublime.

Author: Warwick Mihaly

I am an architect, writer, teacher and father.

1 thought on “Hiding in the City”

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