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The Journey so Far

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The Chinese have a rich history of painting that is considered an enduring form of art and known all over the world. Traditionally, Chinese painting has been done on thin silk or rice paper, using various types of brushes, ink, and dye. The paintings cover a number of topics namely landscape, portrait, birds, flowers, insects, and animals. The traditional Chinese painting is called guo hua. It is done using a brush that is dipped in a black or colored ink usually on silk or paper. The traditional painting has also been done on porcelain, walls, or lacquer ware. Contemporary Chinese painting focuses both on the traditional and current topics such as politics. The traditional painting Winty Trees, a hanging Scroll by Wen Zhengming and the contemporary work of art Hiding in the City No. 2-Suo Jia Village by Liu Bolin have different and similar features. Liu draws himself standing in front a building that is half dismantled with debris scattered all over. He is painted into his surrounding where he can be seen covering himself from one toe to the other with the shapes and colors similar to the background. Therefore, Liu dissolves himself into the background to become invisible. The photograph documents the performance as well as the product of Liu’s artistic creation. The work combines photograph, painting, performance, and artistic vision. It also depicts Liu as a good planner and smart painter. Also evident is Liu’s sense of space and the human body in it. These artistic skills come from his training background on sculpture.[1] At a first glance, Liu’s work seems like an attempt to incorporate himself into his surroundings. However, he argues differently when he says that he does not consider himself melting into the environment, instead the environment has encroached him.[2] The performing act makes him almost disappear, which help convey the message of the power of the engulfing environment. At the same time, his camouflage can be considered as an act of self-protection. Liu voluntarily integrates himself so that he can evade further the damaging forces. His act can be compared to that of some animals and insects, which undergo self-mutation by camouflaging to into their environment whenever they face threats. This appears to explain the original title of the work referred to as Urban Camouflage. Liu as an immigrant in Beijing suddenly lost his work places, a place where he also lived. He realized that he could not change things, so all he could do at the time was to symbolically hide himself in the urban structures to avoid more harm. The protection was symbolic as Liu had once confessed that in human society hiding alone is not enough to create safety.[3] The symbolic disappearance is strategy that the artist used to cope with the unfavorable reality and a way of expressing sense of vulnerability and powerless. This performance was inspired by an unfortunate event that had occurred in the artist life. Early in the month of November 2005, unusual noises awoke artists in Suojia Village. A dismantling team with bulldozers had been sent by the district court ready to pull down studios. More than 100 police officers accompanied the team.[4] The artists had sought for and received an official notification from the court announcing the demolition, but they had been reassured by their property owners that demolition would not occur after an appeal that was made to the local authority. Though some people had moved out after receiving the notification to demolish, others remained hoping that increased media coverage and protest were going to convince officials concerned to avoid the demolition. Liu used his painting to show how Chinese authorities were cracking down contemporary artists due to their different artistic vision. Beijing municipal government claimed that it was reclaiming underused land for profitable development following commercialized urbanization that had been witnessed since the 1990s. The purpose of this piece of art was not merely an aesthetic, but to highlight the ills that the government committed against its citizens. The official enforcement notice indicated that the buildings where the studio compound was constructed was to be demolished because the company that owned the buildings failed to observe city authorities necessary construction requirements, such as obtaining permit. The artists were not aware of the illegality of their studios, so they protested and made an appeal to the authorities hoping that they would be spared because of the cultural significance of the art village. Artists have different ways of expressing their frustration and anger. Organizing an exhibition was a way of protesting demolition. It was at the exhibition where Liu Bon first appeared, and his photographs immediately attracted attention of curators and artists.[5] The traditional painting done by Wen Zhenming is titled Old Trees by a Wintery Brook . Looking at the two paintings keenly, it is possible to notice that they have centered on unique themes. While Liu’s painting was on the theme of political situation that was happening in China during the 1990s, Wen’s painting has focused on the theme of nature. Wen has used the painting to depict a forest in winter. The absence of color, dry and textured strokes have been used to express the desolation of winter. There is a pine planted at the center, and it dominates the whole painting. Wen’s painting being an example of literati, may go beyond the representation. The work could have been used to express the artist’s emotions. On the top left-hand corner of the painting there is a landscape that is related to the loss of his wife. The similarity becomes the emotion with which the two artists express their feelings. In both paintings, there are emotive issues that the artists have to deal with. On one hand, Liu has to deal with the loss of his place of dwelling and studio, while Wen has to deal with the loss of his wife.[6] Traditional and contemporary Chinese paintings have focused on different themes. While the traditional paintings focused on landscape, environment, and flowers, the contemporary paintings emphasizes on modernity and its effects. The similarity remains the emotions with which artists from the two generations presented their themes.


Liu Bolin, Liu Bolin, self-published Catalog. (2006).
Meiquin Wang, Invincible Body and the Predicaments of Existence in an Urbanizing China. (Journal of Current Chinese Affairs 44, no. 1 (2015): 163-197). Wen Zhengming, Wintry Trees, a Hanging Scroll Painting. Accessed 30 March 2016. Zhengming-Wintry-Trees1.pdf

Tarocco, Francesca, Liu Bolin: Seeing with the body, in: Elena Serpotta (ed.), Liu Bolin – Skip_Intro.06. (Brescia, Italy: SHIN Srl, Ultracontemporary Art Books. 2008, 6–19).

Wang, Meiqin. Art, Culture Industry and the Transformation of Songzhuang Artist Village. (The International Journal of the Arts in Society 5, no. 1(2010a): 188–205).

----------------------- [1] Tarocco, Seeing with the Body, in: Elena
[2] Liu, When Camouflage Becomes a Strategy, in: Elena
[3] Liu, Liu Bolin, self-published Catalog.

[4] Wang Meiqin, Art, Culture Industry and the Transformation of Songzhuang Artist Village.
[5] Meiquin, Invincible Body and the Predicaments of Existence in an Urbanizing China.

[6], Wen Zhengming, Wintry Trees, a Hanging Scroll Painting.

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