Remko Tanis • 31 October 2018

Chinese artist Liu Bolin (1973) is currently having his first exposition in Switzerland. I met up with him at his studio outside of Beijing, back in 2009, to talk about how life in China confuses him.

Poster for Liu Bolin exposition in Lausanne, Switzerland. (C) Remko Tanis

He told me how he was uncertain about what’s going on around him in his home country.

"Individuals become completely faceless in the world's most populated country. Our entire system is build on that.

You don't need a head in China, because no-one expects you to think for yourself.

We lead prosperous lives, see our country develop and grow at a breakneck speed, but all the while our heads remain empty.”

Read my full story with Liu Bolin here.

That was 2009, but not much has changed. Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei had the following exchange during an interview on US public radio two days ago:

While your father was ill, you did this performance. You intentionally smashed a Qing dynasty porcelain and a Han dynasty urn and you were photographed smashing another urn. How did these ideas come to you, especially while your father was dying? 

It's not really so much ... ideas, it’s really an attitude or some kind of stupid, ridiculous action. You see a child do that kind of thing all the time. 

Was your intention to shake up the Chinese public? 

No, it's not possible. You have no platform [in China]. The rest of society is in a deep sleep and they don't care.

The full interview from PRI’s The World is here.

Ai Wei Wei left China for Berlin in 2015, having spend 81 days in prison without official charges and other forms of abuse by officials. He’s now preparing to move to New York City. I spoke with him at his Beijing studio back in 2008, during the Olympic Games in China. Ai helped design the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium in Beijing.

Already then, Ai showed the same gloom about his country’s prospects as he does today:

I'm sure young Chinese are proud of the Games and of China. That is the result of our bad schools, the censorship of information and the powerful propaganda of the state. By now already a few generations are doomed because of these elements, which are a larger threat to this country than corruption or pollution.

Read the interview I had with Ai Wei Wei here.

The authorities demolished his main studio Beijing in August 2018. His Shanghai studio had been turned to rubble in early 2011.

The poster for Liu Bolin’s Lausanne exhibition (at the top of this post) is, as it should be, an eye-catcher.

Cover of Liu Bolin’s collection of works until 2008.

Liu on the other hand has become most famous for the works in which he disappears himself. He’ll stand in front of a bulldozer, on top of a pile of debris, or in front of Mao’s painting on Tiananmen Square and paint his entire body and clothes with camouflaging detail that makes him barely visible.

"I decided to blend in with the environment. Some will say that I disappear in the landscape; I would say for my part that it is the environment that takes hold of me. "

Source: Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne, Switzerland

It’s real interesting to see. More on his site.

‘Liu Bolin: Theatre of Appearances’ runs at Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne, Switzerland until 27 January 2019.