Critics’ Picks

Liu Bolin, Villa dei Misteri, Pompei, 2012, digital print, 35 x 47”.

Rome

Liu Bolin

Hendrik Christian Andersen Museum
Via Pasquale Stanislao Mancini 20
September 12 - November 11

This exhibition marks the first showing of the entire corpus of twenty photographs in Liu Bolin’s “Hiding in Italy” series, which he created during a sort of Italian grand tour that began in 2008 in Verona and continued to Venice and Milan in 2010, and to Rome and Pompeii in 2012.

Interweaving different media—painting, performance, photography—Bolin literally immerses himself in historical sites, becoming a trompe l’oeil. Like a Magritte figure, Bolin traverses landscapes and is in turn traversed by them. His manner of penetrating sites is mimetic: Through a slow process of camouflaging his body, he renders it identical to the environment in which he chooses to “disappear.” This effect of vanishing, however, occurs only from a single viewpoint, that of the camera that captures the event, which is also the viewpoint of the artist. His chameleon-like attempt to penetrate reality is a peculiar live investigation, not a disappearance of the subject into the representation. The subjective element is fundamental: He reflects on cultural differences and at the same time challenges the notion of self and national identity (and national affiliation). In Teatro alla Scala n. 2, 2010, Bolin is seen seated in the orchestra section, on a red velvet seat. His body and face are completely covered in darker and lighter tones that mimic the velvet. Here the artist simultaneously camouflages and individualizes himself; he creates a short circuit of different traditions and cultural legacies, where differences seem to dissolve and merge.

In other photos, especially those shot in Venice and Rome (at tourist sites par excellence), viewers may suspect that his choice of locations corresponds to places spoiled by mass consumption. However in the photos of Pompeii, particularly in Via della Fortuna and Villa dei Misteri (both 2012), Bolin achieves an extraordinary synthesis between his silent presence and the evocative power of the buildings and the Pompeian frescoes, in a realm between historical memory and personal experience.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.