Liu Bolin and the art of concealment
Known as the 'invisible man', artist Liu Bolin camouflages himself against different city locations, from China to the UK. Each of his photographic artworks takes up to 10 hours to complete, with an assistant helping to paint him into the background. Can you spot him in these pictures?
Liu's artworks, collectively entitled Hiding in the City, came into being after his Beijing art studio was shut down by the Chinese authorities in 2005. The government had stipulated that it didn't want artists gathering and working together
Painted patriotism ... Liu sees his work as a protest against the Chinese government's persecution of artists
Keeping it street ... Liu has said that his art is influenced by his sense of not fitting in with modern society
... and yet he can camouflage himself against any background, no matter how complicated
Can you see him blending in with a red telephone box?
... or merging with a monument?
Even earthquake rubble is no match for this master of disguise
... who can seemingly weld himself to a wall
... be someone's imaginary friend
... and melt into machinery. Or is he even there at all?
Banksy: paint misbehaving Banksy's first film Exit Through The Gift Shop underlines his status as a subversive in a long and honourable British tradition.
By Mark Hudson
1 Mar 2010
When a bent and elongated telephone box appears in a London alley with a pickaxe in its side, everyone knows what’s going on. As French film-maker Thierry Guetta approaches the little crowd of onlookers, they tell him that this work — installation, event, action or whatever you want to call it — is by Banksy, “a graffiti artist. A good one”. There’s a sense of pride among these very ordinary people, most of them on their way to work, not only at being able to point out this bold, chutzpah-laden, but above all British cultural gesture to a foreign visitor, but at the fact that they are in on the story.
This scene plays out in Exit Through the Gift Shop, Banksy’s first feature film, which opens next week. Has any artist (and I suppose we must call him an artist) changed the public perception of his art form (and I suppose we must call it an art form) quite the way Banksy has? It isn’t long since graffiti or street artists were seen as just one step above muggers and drugpushers: dragging down whole areas with their mindless, moronic “tagging”. Now, the proximity of a good piece of “street art” can positively enhance the value of a property.
We’ve got a Banksy in the area of north London where I live, a life-size figure of Charles Manson as a hitchhiker, standing at a particularly charmless traffic intersection, and it’s generally seen as one of the better reasons to live in our unloved inner-city neighbourhood.
The mystery man of British street art isn’t moving towards becoming a national treasure — he already is one. Having earned respect with a succession of daring gestures — from installing his own paintings in the National Gallery to risking bullets as he painted on the Israeli West Bank barrier — Banksy now enjoys enormous popular approval. Of the people consulted, 97 per cent elected that a Banksy image of a hanged man should remain on a prominent wall in Bristol. The details of his anti-capitalist politics appear irrelevant. Even an arguably cynical move into gallery art doesn’t seem to have harmed the standing of this Robin Hood of the spraycan.
I’m in a soot-encrusted vault deep beneath Waterloo station, with the juddering of trains reverberating from far overhead and dubby music drifting through the murky space. The place has been converted into the semblance of a cinema, yet the atmosphere isn’t, it has to be said, remotely edgy. The music, the post-industrial location, the sculptures dotted about the place, including a simulated bonfire of old master paintings, all contribute to the sense of a Banksy-branded ambience. There will even be a red carpet, celebrity screening.
Yet if the film’s beginning — a montage of frantically aerosolling kids overlain by Richard Hawley’s Sixties-flavoured The Streets Are Ours — suggests we may be in for a Summer Holiday for the graffiti age, Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop doesn’t make things entirely easy for the viewer.
Just as Banksy’s art plays artfully with trompe-l’oeil, a method of painting that creates the illusion of a three-dimensional object, so his film tries to play similar games with film narrative. Appearing mostly as a hooded silhouette, though even electronic treatment can’t hide his homely West Country accent, Banksy explains that having been approached by someone wanting to make a film about him, he thought it would be more interesting to make a film about the film-maker.
What follows purports to be a documentary about Banksy and the street art world, made by the Los Angeles-based Frenchman Guetta, which gradually transforms itself into a documentary about Guetta made by Banksy, in which Guetta attempts to turn himself into a Banksyesque art world manipulator under the name of Mr Brainwash.
The film cleverly leaves you wondering whether Guetta is borderline insane or simply a Banksy associate playing a role — or if he even exists at all. As another Banksy associate says of Guetta’s climactic LA show: “It’s difficult to tell who the joke is on, or if there even is one.” More interesting than this, however, is the light the film throws on the graffiti world in general and Banksy’s operation in particular. Artists such as superstar American Shepard Fairey, creator of the already iconic Obama Hope poster, Guetta’s cousin, Invader, and the wonderfully named Buff Monster come across as highly disciplined risk-takers, hanging onto their political ideals as they move into more lucrative mainstream media.
That Banksy has been able to conceal his identity to the extent that he has seems all the more remarkable when you see the scale of the quasi-industrial operation behind him. A team of assistants produce the intricate stencils with which his images are applied to walls. That bent phone box was driven to its location on a flatbed lorry. The great graffiti outlaw actually employs a head of PR and security. But then the fact that a newspaper story, giving the artist’s name, parentage and a succession of addresses, has largely been ignored shows the extent of the public’s desire to participate in the myth.
While we think of the terms graffiti and street art as interchangeable, for those involved in them these spheres are worlds apart. Having emerged through Bristol’s graffiti scene, a world closely related to hip hop, in which the visibility of the “tag” or graphic signature is all, Banksy gradually moved into the more aesthetically orientated and politically overt area of street art, which has roots in European counterculture going back to May 1968. It’s a move that can be seen almost as a change in social class.
While Banksy’s stark monochrome stencilled imagery is heavily influenced by French artist Blek le Rat, his genius has been to add an element of oblique and quintessentially British humour that gives his work an appeal far beyond those who simply agree with his views — not only in Britain, but across Europe and the United States.
The parallels between Banksy’s film and the mockumentaries of Sacha Baron Cohen are strong. Both represent a quirky, ambiguous, satirical humour in which nothing is fully spelt out, which is seen abroad as peculiarly British. And judging from the euphoric response to the Banksy film at the recent Berlin Film Festival, this is something the rest of the world wants, particularly when it’s delivered with the kind of pop savvy that has been a hallmark of British culture from the Beatles to Damien Hirst. The question of whether Thierry Guetta exists is as irrelevant as Banksy’s real identity: it’s the way the story’s told that matters, rather than the reality behind it.
Yet subversive as this humour is, and it’s felt in everything from Alice in Wonderland to Monty Python, it is a mediating force in British society, a way of letting off psychic steam. Banksy’s art is conciliatory rather than truly anarchic. His now iconic image of a demonstrator throwing a bunch of flowers rather than a Molotov cocktail may have been intended with a degree of irony, yet it is in essence “true”.
But before we canonise Banksy as some kind of Alan Bennett of the aerosol can, his work — and it’s his street art rather than his gallery art for which he’ll be remembered — does still involve real risk.
In what is perhaps the film’s most memorable sequence, Banksy and Guetta install the figure of a hooded Guantánamo Bay detainee inside Disneyland, resulting in the Frenchman being detained for four hours. They didn’t apply for an Arts Council grant to do this. They didn’t summon a curator to justify it with pompous waffle. No one is culturally blackmailed into liking Banksy’s work the way they are with most so-called contemporary art.
In a world where we are bombarded in our public spaces with advertising messages, Banksy’s images provide another view – one that is funny, provocative, yet far from doctrinaire. While he would no doubt recoil at the idea, Banksy has inadvertently persuaded Middle Britain that the real vandals in our society are the people who erect hideous monstrosities without public consultation, not some bloke who paints pictures on the walls.
* 'Exit Through the Gift Shop’ is released on Friday
Family forced to dress snow sculpture of naked woman in bikini after complaints to police
4th March 2010
It was supposed to be a bit of fun during recent heavy snow, but one family's snow sculpture has earned a frosty reception. Maria Conneran and her family had worked hard to create their armless, nude snow lady in the front garden of their home in Rahway, New Jersey.
But despite several compliments on their chilly version of the Venus de Milo, the family were forced to cover up her blushes after complaints from other residents. The icy goddess, which was visible from the roadside, had attracted admiring glances from passing motorists. But Rahway police sent a patrolman to the Conneran home after they received an anonymous complaint 'of a naked snow woman', according to Sergeant Dominick Sforza.
Elisa Gonzalez, a court reporter who built the snow goddess with her daughter Maria, 21, and son Jack Shearing, 12, was shocked after being asked to cover up her assets. She said: 'She was curvaceous, bodacious and booty-licious. But she had a six-pack! I thought she looked more objectified and sexualised after you put the bikini on.'
A policeman was sent out to the family's home in Rahway to ask them to cover up their sculpture's modesty The policeman was apologetic after asking the family to dress the snow lady, she said. The family complied by dressing her in a green bikini top and a blue sarong around her hips.
Mayor calls for removal of giant Pope-worrying penis A town in Malta is facing calls from its own mayor to remove a 'phallic' sculpture which would be seen by the Pope as he drives past when visiting this weekend.
The 'Colonna Mediterranea' is a sculpture by local artist Paul Vella Critien, and since 2006 has stood at a roundabout in Luqa, near to Maltaís international airport. The roundabout is on the route Pope Benedict XVI will take as he visits Malta on April 17 and 18.
John Schembri, the mayor of Luqa, has described the sculpture as 'vulgar' and 'embarrassing', and called for it to be removed as 'it is not the most fitting way in which to greet the Pope.' He said the council would appeal to the government to have the sculpture removed.
But the government says they have no plans to remove the artwork, and sculptor Critien hit back at his critics - calling them 'ignorant' and 'uneducated' and insisting that the object wasn't actually a massive penis, but an ancient Egyptian symbol.
Giant penis protest hits St. Petersburg In a piece of cutting political commentary, a group of artists have protested about heightened security in the Russian city of St. Petersburg by drawing a giant 220ft-long penis on a drawbridge.
The massive penis was created by the radical art collective Voina, or War, who painted the organ on the bridge to highlight the security measures that will be put in place when St. Petersburg hosts the International Economic Forum from June 17.
Measuring 65 metres (220 ft) long and 27 metres across, the big penis rises and glistens in the light whenever the bridge is raised to let ships pass beneath, framed against a backdrop of the imposing architecture of the former capital city of the Russian Empire.
'We have painted a giant phallus to show what the FSB and Interior Ministry are doing in terms of security for the forum,' Voina said in a statement. The FSB is Russia's main internal security agency, the successor to the KGB - and when the bridge is raised, the now-erect penis stands right beside its local headquarters.
The penis was painted on Monday, and one of the Voina artists has subsequently been fined by police over the penis. The penis was still visible on Wednesday.
Sandalism: The bizarre sculptures mysteriously popping up at builders' sites around London
From the underground world of street art these incredible sculptures show latest craze - sandalism.
In the tone similar to infamous guerilla artists Banksy - half vandalism and half impressive creativity - photos show some of the bizarre and captivating urban sculptures popping up all over London - made entirely out of sand.
The artwork is the brainchild of maverick artist Zara Gaze. Working alone and under the cover of night in London, Zara crafts intricate pieces and retreats at dawn.
Spooky: Five smiling pumpkin heads, one of the first pieces of street art Gaze did back in 2008 in Bourne Terrace, Paddington, near the Hammersmith Flyover
Her masterpieces surprise morning passers-by who only a few hours before saw only a builders site or sandpit.
The results are some truly spectacular pieces of art - from a giant human brain popping up in Paddington to a tree frog in Maida Vale.
The quirky sculptor left a fine art course at St Martin's College in London, frustrated with the rigid art scene and craving something more fun and accessible.
She said; 'I found the art world too stuffy and cut off from its audience. 'I've always been interested in street art because it is so instant for the viewer.
'After I left St Martin's I found myself walking round the streets of London just taking things out of skips and making them into sculptures'.
Working on the streets gave Zara the freedom she always craved and she has been in love with the genre she has been developing ever since.
The fact that her audience isn't a crowd of art lovers but surprised passers-by on the way to work is what gives her the thrill she loves in her work.
Chew on this: Chattering teeth on the Portobello Road in London, made from builders' sand where road works are being carried out
'I love the immediacy for the people walking by and seeing it,' she said. 'There are an awful lot of miserable commuters in London and it's nice to make them smile for a minute'.
When she first began her work Zara would find an inconspicuous spot nearby to watch people's startled reactions to the final results as they wandered past.
Ever since she has been making art on the streets with sand.
Her first project was on London's South Bank - the only place where natural sand can be found in the city.
She has raised even more eyebrows with her covert, urban artwork using piles of sand on builders' sites at the side of the road.
The sculptures can take anything from two to five hours to complete. Once satisfied Zara slinks off into the night, leaving behind a giant frog or chameleon or whatever has been her night's work.
'You only see a few people around at that time of night,' she said. 'It was a bit scary at first, being a girl out at night on my own.
Spring in your step: A passer by checks out a giant Monty Python-style foot in Westbourne Grove, London
'I used to wear a gorilla costume and keep a shovel handy. Who's going to mess with someone dressed as a gorilla with a spade?'
Now that she has put her gorilla costume days behind her, sandalism is going from strength to strength.
Her next project is an ambitious piece mingling art and science at the Glastonbury festival this week.
While it seems sad her work never lasts more than around three days before it crumbles back to grains of sand, for pioneering Zara the fleeting nature of her art is part of its magic.
'It doesn't belong to anyone,' she said. 'You have to appreciate it while it's there because it's not going to last'.
Artistic inspiration: A giant plug hole and plug, fashioned out of sand by artist Zara Gaze beside the Thames on the river's south bank
Graffiti-ridden derelict sites have been given a much needed face-lift with extraordinary light art by Tigtab. Each image is created with the help of stencils. These intricate designs are revealed after a burst from a camera flash lights up the inside of the box. In this picture, a pond scene is created in a flooded derelict building
She said : "My photos are predominantly shot using urban backdrops. I find beauty in decay - those abandoned and forgotten places all around us. By bringing light into the darkness of each space, it fills that space for a moment in time, and highlights both their beauty and impermanence"
Much like Banksy, Tigtab, from Melbourne, Australia, keeps her identity a closely guarded secret
Under cover of darkness, she can spend up to four hours creating just one photo
Tigtab creates her images using stencils
The stencils are placed on light boxes lined with silver foil. The intricate designs are revealed after a burst from a camera flash lights up the inside of the box very briefly
Tigtab moves around the room, tunnel or drain, repositioning the stencils and firing the flash repeatedly while the shutter of the camera is left open to create complex designs
The end result is so polished Tigtab said people often assume her work is computer generated. She said: "Speechless is a good description of people's initial reactions to date. They will often stare in awe, unable to verbalise initially what they are seeing. I find that people keep returning to certain images, which is a wonderful compliment"
"Some people don't realise that they are images that I have created, and then shot within that location," she said. "They assume that they are entirely constructed within a computer, which is incorrect"
You can see more of Tigtab's light painting at her Flickr site
Chilean illusionists stage amazing levitation for over EIGHT HOURS
11th September 2010
A pair of Chilean twins have broken the world levitation record by hovering above the ground for an extraordinary 200 minutes. Nicolas Luisetti and John Paul Olhaberry staged the event in Chile's capital Santiago to mark the country's 200th anniversary.
The magic twins stunned thousands of passers-by as they floated above the city's streets for over eight hours. The stunt brought traffic to a standstill as thousands of people tried to work out how the trick was done. Their only visible support was a post which each had one hand placed on.
The crowd gathered below suggested a number of different explanations for how the twins may have carried out the stunt, including having some sort of iron bar through their clothing and attached to the pole.
The twins are already considered the most famous illusionists in the country. They have made numerous television appearances in the past and are set to carry out further high-profile events to mark the country's anniversary. Their stunts are similar to those carried out by U.S magician David Blane who became famous for his extraordinary levitation trick.
Nation-wide celebrations for Chile's bicentenary are set to take place on September 18.
Tipping police cars is art Following on from drawing a giant penis on a bridge, a group of artists in St. Petersburg have moved onto a new form of artisitic protest - tipping over police cars.
The group - which calls itself Voina - flipped over eight patrol cars in one night as a protest against what they claim is widespread corruption in police ranks in St Petersburg. The group was previously responsible for such protests as staging an orgy in Moscow's Biological Museum, and memorably painting a 200ft high penis on a St. Petersburg drawbridge.
Alexei Plutser-Sarno, a spokesman for the group, said on his blog: 'The police won't pursue us. We have neither money nor property, so there's nothing to get from us. The werewolves in epaulettes don't work for no reason and for free.' Another of the group's stunts involved releasing thousands of cockroaches into a court room where two group members were facing trial over one exhibition.
Russian art expert David Riff commented: 'The aim of art is to provoke and oppose, and Voina is the only group now which still performs these kinds of things.'
Side of house plastered with one million pieces of used CHEWING GUM
24th September 2010
Containing an estimated one million pieces of chewed gum (and an unknown quantity of dried saliva) this may be the world's weirdest - and according to a recent poll the world's second most unhygienic - tourist attraction.
Landing second place in Tripadvisor's 'World's Germiest Attractions' rundown, the 50-foot long Pike Place Market wall in Seattle, USA, is covered from floor to ceiling in colourful gum. The tacky display first took shape when theatregoers queueing for the Unexpected Productions' improv comedy show Seattle Theatresports stuck coins and other small objects to the wall using chewing gum.
Theatre workers twice scraped the wall clean but eventually had to admit defeat. Local market officials declared the gum wall an official 'tourist attraction' in 1999. It even inspired a scene in the Hollywood film, Love Happens, staring Jennifer Aniston and Aaron Eckhart.
Beaten only by Ireland's famous Blarney Stone, which visitors kiss in hope of acquiring the gift of the gab, the Seattle local landmark has slowly accumulated more and more pieces of chewed gum since the turn of the century. Now inches-thick brightly coloured messages adorn the wall as well as small 'art works' made from people's left over bubble or chewing gum.
'It stretches at its most concentrated area for around 50 feet and is about 15 feet high,' said Jamison Johnson, 36, a local musician and artist who has documented the growth of the wall. It was first started in 1993 by people waiting in the queue attending the Market Theatre in Post Alley, which stands under Pike Place Market. It was cleaned up twice, but in 1999, Seattle realised that it was like California's famous Bubblegum Alley in San Luis Obispo and left it alone. Since then people flock here to get married, leave their own piece of gum or to even make a small art work or a message of love or peace.'
The wall has developed an unusual visual appeal for the art-loving residents of Seattle. 'To me the gum wall sums up the eclectic Seattle arts experience,' said Jamison. 'It has a unique character, diversity, equality of access and expression, and innovation that struck hearts and minds of Seattle. To me it stands out much more than the city's Space Needle and other attractions to embody the real Seattle experience and art influence.'
Celebrating over ten years of continual evolution and growth, the Seattle gum wall last year found itself basking in new found infamy. 'When TripAdvisor.com named it the second most germiest tourist attraction in the world, people just swelled in numbers coming to see the wall,' said Jamison. 'I suppose it is a little unhygienic, especially when we are all obsessed with clean hands and swine flu, but it's only supposed to be fun.'
OTHER MINGING ATTRACTIONS...
1: The Blarney Stone, Ireland: Kissed by an unquantifiable number of would-be politicians and salesmen
2: Seattle Gum Wall, USA: Encrusted with chewing gum
3: Oscar Wilde's Tomb, France: Smeared with the lipstick of a huge number of 'artistic' teenagers
4: St Mark's Place, Venice: Infested by a vast flock of filthy pigeons hoping for a free meal
5: Grauman's Chinese Theatre, USA: Its oft-touched hand prints are no cleaner than any other stretch of pavement.
6: Karni Mata Rat Temple, India: The clue is in the name. Bare feet are mandatory for visitors.
7: Friendly Monkey Valley, Korea: The monkeys are friendly. That doesn't make them clean.
8: Glastonbury Festival, England: The Bronze Age conditions of the festival toilets are the stuff of legend
9: 'Any Children's Ball Pool': A bit of a cheat this, but those colourful balls harbour all manner of grime
10: CBGB's toilets, USA: The original Punk Rock haunt flies the flag for filthy rock club loos the world over.
The worst bit of parking ever seen on the streets of London... or a crash course in art?
19th October 2010
There are hundreds of hard-to-believe examples of bad parking on the streets of London every day, but traffic wardens were convinced this was the worst. It had them reaching for their ticket books but posed a bigger problem for clampers wanting to tackle the car that was left upside down on a double yellow line in Regent's Park.
Eventually they were put in the picture as organisers of the Frieze Art Fair owned up to it being a stunt to attract visitors to the four-day exhibition that featured more than 150 contemporary art galleries from around the world. The fair, presented in association with The Art Fund, also included specially commissioned artists’ projects, a prestigious talks programme and an artist-led education schedule.
And did they get a ticket? The organisers wouldn't say...
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