Few would deny that our output of pollution into the Earth’s atmosphere is a global problem, but some places are struck far worse than others. In China, the burning of coal in factories and power plants, as well as the exuberant vehicle use, has led to their major cities becoming hazardous to live in. With no end in sight to the smog (a smog persistent and strong enough to reach as far as the state of California in the USA), people are feeling increasingly helpless.
Artist Liu Bolin has tried to capture that feeling through his art. By employing stunning and intricate camouflage body paint, he’s earned his nickname as ‘The Invisible Man’. This specific project is a reaction piece to the ever growing concerns about China’s air pollution, and a strong statement for change.
He applies elaborate body paint to his seven models, making them blend into their smoggy Beijing background, almost completely disappearing. A powerful image, as the people suffering through the inhospitable air are the ones ignored as the country marches on.
The endless urban smog that China has become infamous for is far from a new development. For years the country has been struggling, plagued by the choking air pollution. Only a month ago China’s pollution had reached a new low by reaching a new high: the worst documented pollution level the country had seen yet, with Beijing and 10 other cities across the country closing their schools and halting construction. The government even ordered the removal of over 2.5 million cars from the streets of China.
But in the face of adversity, powerful art is made. Not just Liu Bolin has made pollution the foundation of his art, Wang Renzheng (also known as ‘Nut Brothers’) is hoping to raise awareness with his own project. By using an industrial vacuum cleaner, he has extracted dust and various other lung-clogging pollutants from the smog enveloping the city of Beijing and transformed them into dark ‘smog bricks’.
The photographs resulting from Liu Bolin’s impressive endeavour could not have been released at a more fitting and important time: mere days after the capital of China issued a first-alert about their air pollution, the quality of air and how the persistent smog is merely a symptom of the climate change issues we’re dealing with globally.
Many people in China are still not educated on the harmful effects of pollution in their cities. Artists like Liu Bolin and Nut Brothers are doing their best to raise awareness through their art, and strive for a better atmosphere for future generations.
“This work actually shows the helplessness modern people feel. The fear in their hearts. Their struggles.”
It’s clear that things are not gonna change without some drastic changes, but this isn’t just China’s problem. It’s a global one. It’s the global demand for production that’s got the Chinese industry working overtime. If we want to lower pollution levels worldwide, we need to produce less. The first step? Try to push ourselves towards a zero waste lifestyle.
With the collective effort of the individual, we can make blue skies be the worldwide norm again. Even in Beijing. While the art shown here is absolutely captivating, the world would be a better place if there was no need to make it in the first place.