bear witness

March 31, 2012

Liu Bolin & JR in New York City
Photographs and Text by Zachary Bako

Liu Bolin is a contemporary Chinese artist based in Beijing. He is best known for his Hiding in the City series, which began in 2005 as a performance protesting the government when they forcibly demolished the studios of artists in Suo Jia Cun, where he was working.

I was in Beijing for artist residency in 2010, creating my own work that was investigating the modernity of China.  During this time, I also began to document the contemporary Chinese art scene. Liu Bolin had been on my radar since 2006 / 2007.  It was not until June 21, 2011, that I first met and worked with the artist when he was in New York.  He was creating imagery for Hiding in New York.  I documented each day he performed, and I photographed the final artwork for each of his performances.

Soon after our meeting, I found myself in the enviable position of traveling back and forth to Beijing as our working relationship deepened.  At the end of December 2011, I relocated to Beijing after seven years in New York to focus on the documentation of Liu Bolin’s creative process.  I am now in pre-production of creating a documentary film chronicling the Hiding in the City series, with much emphasis on the earlier works.

Liu Bolin’s passion for his artwork was clear from the start. The more I worked with Liu, the more interested I got in capturing his emotion, and that of those around him, as he works. When we collaborate, I find myself peeling the camera away from my face, almost like I need to take a minute now and then just to bear witness to the intensity of the atmosphere around me. In particular, when we were in his hometown of Binzhou in Shandong Province, China, last September creating two works.

Liu Bolin and JR have known each other for 4 or 5 years ago. They first met in Arles, France. During Liu Bolin’s first performance for Hiding in New York in 2011 (at that time, in front of the Kenny Scharf mural on Houston and Bowery) JR stopped by to give his regards. Almost a year later the two would collaborate on a piece.

First, JR photographed Liu Bolin’s face (the frame denotes his left eye partially visible through the fingers of his left hand) (Liu Bolin is predominately left-handed when creating sculptures and painting) Then JR and his assistants pasted the mural onto his studio door.  Once the pasting was completed, we waited for the correct light and Liu Bolin and his assistants then painted JR into his own image. Perched on scaffolding across the street, (there was a SUV parked from the correct POV, so we elevated camera to combat this) Liu Bolin directed his assistants with a laser pointer to perfect every last detail. The final product, a photograph.

Frankly, Liu Bolin and JR respect each other’s work; even so much that JR has collected one of Liu Bolin’s pieces. I think that it is fantastic that a cultural bridge is connected with these two artists. They are no doubt, two very important artists of our time; both having very distinct messages within their work.  I consider their collaboration a homage to one another.

For more information please visit
Zachary Bako

I benefit with gratitude.

A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.
I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them.
My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.
Nothing is ever the same as they said it was.

The thing that’s important to know is that you never know.
You’re always sort of feeling your way.

I work from awkwardness. By that I mean I don’t like to arrange things.
If I stand in front of something, instead of arranging it, I arrange myself.

Quotes by Diane Arbus
Photographs by Sian Kennedy

i am youu

March 30, 2012

artwork by David Hale

The forms may change,
yet the essence remains the same.

freedom ~

March 29, 2012

 I am thinking I could have done better, I could have said it this way or that
when all of a sudden, I see through the lie.
I don’t have to be perfect. Because I am not.
And what is the point?
He has seen me as a train wreck
me he loves.

Steven Hirsch has done it again. The man who brought you Courthouse Confessions, CrustyPunks, and most chillingly, the homes of sexual predators, has returned with Little Sticky Legs, portraits and stories of alien abductees.

Me, I don’t believe. But no longer do I feel that anything is impossible because too many strange things keep happening to me. And were I to continue to view any of these people with judgment and condescention, I would be missing the point of all of this. These are storytellers. I am listening.

Our lives are defined by our experiences. Our experiences shape our beliefs. Our beliefs shape our experiences. The circle never begins and never ends. And we are always writing our stories, whether we set them down or not. That someone as open minded as Steven Hirsch is out here recording these stories provides us with something previously not in existence, a way to consider these people on their terms and no one elses.

If we could let go, release ourselves from some inferior need to be “right”, if we could accept people on their terms and learn something about them, ourselves, the world in the process? Ahh, that would be the point of life.

In the summer of 1961 when I was twelve years old, I was at my girlfriends house  and we were playing and her father yelled for us to come outside, he wanted us to see something. When we walked outside we immediately saw a giant silver craft. It was silently hovering above a tree. It had red, green and white lights that I thought at the time were rotating but I realize they were pulsating. Someone called the police. Two Novi police came. Her father actually brought a telescope out and he asked me to look through the telescope, I said, “Why? It’s right there.” I didn’t even understand why I would even look through a telescope. It was so close. And then there was a car coming down the road. There was a tree here and a craft here and a car coming down the road and as it got right underneath the craft, a beam of light came out of the bottom and it went right to the roof of the car and as soon as it touched the car the car was totally immobilized. I just remember screaming and being excited and jumping up and down. I remember tugging on one of the police officers arms and saying, “Do something. Do something.”  After that I remember being home and Mom and Dad telling me to not talk about it, forget about it, hoping that I would forget about it and it would go away. So for fifty years I never shared it with anyone, not with family or friends or anyone….

Read the Full Story Here

I don’t believe in dogmas and theologies. I just believe in being a good person.

When I work, and in my art, I hold hands with God.

I see things like they’ve never been seen before.
Art is an accurate statement of the time in which it is made.

I need somebody who I can really communicate with.

When I have sex with someone I forget who I am.
For a minute I even forget I’m human.
It’s the same thing when I’m behind a camera. I forget I exist.

Quotes by Robert Mapplethorpe
Photographs by Lilla Szasz

this is my spirit ~

March 28, 2012

The Biggest Cat on Earth: The Siberian Tiger
by Clara Lehman

The Panthera tigris altaica, Siberian Tiger, or Amur Tiger as it is also known, is matched in size by no other wild cat. The Tungusic people of North China and Russia regarded the animal as a deity, and gave it names such as ‘Grandfather’ or ‘Old Man.’ There is no denying the majestic nature of this special animal, and even when looking at contemporary Chinese culture the Siberian tiger is seen again and again. Adult Siberian tigers can often reach lengths of 3.3 metres long, and a weight of 300 kilograms, but there have been recordings of animals larger than this. One Siberian tiger, called ‘Jaipur’, who was kept in captivity, reached a staggering weight of 465 kilograms.

Their Natural Habitat

Right now the Siberian tiger is mostly confined to the cold birch forests of eastern Russia, but they can be found in China, and also Korea. In centuries past these magnificent creatures were much more prevalent across a large area cutting through Russia, China and Korea, but in modern times their numbers have dwindled. Siberian tigers prospered in the isolated habitats away from human settlements, but as the human race grew and spread, the Siberian tiger began to lose its territory.

In a rare instance of the natural world, these animals sometimes engage in a losing battle with humans, often after being provoked or from an attempt to capture them. While they are not considered to pose a specific threat to humans, they have been known to defend their territory, and are more than capable of killing a man. These wild cats are so strong and powerful that they can successfully hunt brown bears, and make it difficult for wolves to exist in the same environment because they dominate the food source.

They hunt alone, without a pack to help them catch prey, and their technique is to sneak up on their next meal. They hunt a variety of different animals, but their usual diet consists of deer, wild boar, fish, and birds. Their habit of occupying areas with the lowest human density is a great advantage, because it offers them the most complete natural ecosystem where they can reign supreme.

The Strive to Protect

The Siberian tiger is currently in the endangered bracket in terms of conservation. There are no definite figures as to exactly how many still exist in the wild, but it is estimates from 2005 put the figure at between 300 and 400. There is a large effort to protect these now rare animals, but still they succumb to the poachers and deforestation, especially in China. The extent of poaching is surprising considering how dangerous these animals can be, and the damage they can inflict. Opportunist poachers with cheap van insurance really are risking life and limb when attempting to capture and transport a Siberian tiger.

One instance in 2002 saw a man from Jilin province in China survive an attack by a Siberian tiger. He claimed the tiger attacked him without any provocation on his part, but his story raised suspicions, mainly because Siberian tigers very rarely attack humans. It was later revealed that the man had actually set traps to catch the animal, and he was only attacked once the tiger in questioned had a snare around its neck, causing it untold pain. The damage and infection caused by the snare eventually killed the tiger, even after desperate surgery to try and save it.

Rarely thought of as a man-eater, the Siberian tiger now benefits from a large conservation effort that strives to protect the animal and ensure that their numbers stop declining. The majority of Siberian tigers, maybe as many as 95% of the wild population, live in the Russian Far East. The World Conservation Society Russia has a Siberian Tiger Project that focuses on collecting scientific information connected to Siberian tiger ecology and using it to help conserve them. They have been tracking the animals through the use of radio collars since 1992, and are building a complete understanding of how Siberian tigers live, their eating habits, preproduction rates, social structure, and use of territory. From their research they have concluded that around 80% of Siberian tigers die because of human influence. It seems that only increased efforts to keep deforestation and human expansion away from the environments that Siberian tigers inhabit, along with stopping poachers, will stop their numbers decreasing.

The Invisible Line

March 26, 2012

Eddie Brannan introduced me to Ellen Jong back in 2005. He told me she had a book she wanted to publish and would I be interested? Ohmagosh. Yeaa! With that introduction a beautiful friendship began, and I must say, rare is the person with whom I have collaborated that I can say holds such a shining place in my heart.

I have long been a champion of Miss Jong, and she of me. As we drew closer, I could see so many parallels between our lives. We have taken different paths, but we are going in the same direction. And once again our paths align, as she brings The Invisible Line to life this June at Allegra La Viola Gallery in New York.

As we talked, The Invisible Line began to make itself felt. It is the same line I have been crossing, though I call it the fire I walk through. The premise is elegant and essential to life. It is that we must cross the line cast by fear in order to grow, to live, to thrive. Life need not be mere survival. Life can be more than you ever dreamed, because every moment we are here, we create possibility.

I know this to be true, having lived so many lives by this time it is hard to imagine that still, I am young. I know this to be true because things I never imagined possible have become. The people I have known, have connected with, the unexpected being the constant, the dream becoming reality. This could only happen by facing fear with a big golden smile upon my face. And I now know facing fear is to take it on wherever the invisible line appears.

A common fear among artists is the fear of creation. I have been thinking of this lately, about how so many people never allow themselves to express the divine energy that is their birthright. The reasons (excuses) for this are numerous, but they hold no weight. They are chimeras, illusions, shadows of the fake.

One common fear is money. Who has it? Where will it come from? How to finance? How how ask? How to manifest our purpose with or without it?

Amazing that a piece of paper could hold such sway, but we will empower it to disempower us, unless we learn a better way. Kickstarter is one such way. It shows how technology can be used for the greater good. It provides the platform upon which we can introduce our dreams to the world. And here we can ask, without the residue of shame. Because why should there be shame in creating community among those who love and support creative energy?

I believe one must always put their money where their mouth is. I have poured money into people into whom I believe, never asking in return for anything, because that would be cheap. I am hypersensitized to cheapness and greed. I have seen it in my own character and it was the first vice I sought to erase. And so I began, supporting artists. Because this is America, a capitalist society. I believe we vote with our money, and where we put it can help other people thrive. And there is nothing greater than to be among the flourishing, to feel the energy that comes from being a part of something bigger than yourself, of supporting the provocative, the beautiful, the compelling, all that which is original thought.

Those who say nothing is original are those who have quit their own lives. Everything is original. Every moment we are on this earth is unlike any other, and in these moments, we create ourselves anew. And in order to do this, we must cross The Invisible Line.

Check Out The Invisible Line on Kickstarter

Chapter 63

March 26, 2012

Practice non-action.
Work without doing.
Taste the tasteless.
Magnify the small, increase the few.
Reward bitterness with care.
See simplicity in the complicated.
Achieve greatness in little things.

In the universe the difficult things are done as if they are easy.
In the universe great acts are made up of small deeds.
The sage does not attempt anything very big,
And thus achieved greatness.

Easy promises make for little trust.
Taking things lightly results in great difficulty.
Because the sage always confronts difficulties,
He never experiences them.
—Tao Te Ching

you are here and so am i
and maybe millions of people go by

doug aitken: song 1

19th Law of Ma’at

March 22, 2012

I am trustful in my relationships.

The portrait has become the icon of our times. Where we once venerated gods and saints, we now elevate ourselves to the object worthy of beholding, worthy of veneration—by ourselves, our loved ones, or by perfect strangers. The portrait is a means of recording that one moment in time as a universal constant; this is us now and forever more, this is who we are and how we see the world. And as we see, so we are seen. And as we believe, so we become.

The portrait was originally an invention of painting and sculpture, a means of recording greatness to sway the populace. Kings and queens and lesser nobles had likenesses produced as a means of asserting their power. For the image speaks in every language and can be understood by all, no matter when we live, what we perceive through our eyes is a mirror of the world.

When photography replaced painting as the tool of recording life, painting had to redefine itself. But photography was immediately taken as a form of truth, as a means of both art and reportage at the same time. It is a construction, in as much as all objects exist in our mind first. But it is also the reconstruction of memory as mediated through our contemplation of the object itself….

Read the Full Story Here

Gala Ball, Bamako,1962, The Portrait of Mali © Malick Sidibé


Photographs, Bamako, Mali 1948-1963 by Seydou Keita published by steidldangin /



March 21, 2012

Psychic Friends Network. First he is in my dream. Then he is in my inbox. So I write and I listen and I write some more. And I want to give out commendations for bravery and for honesty and for acceptance. Lin Felton keeps appearing in my life. It began with a drawing of me, only he doesn’t know she is me, but I do. Actually, it didn’t begin with that drawing, it began before that. I began with a correspondence that was real and raw and honest.

For as long as I have known Lin he has never asked me for anything. Not. One. Thing. I think he’s on the short list with that. I admire him because he holds his integrity as an artist higher than most people I have met. He has a sixth sense serves him well. But it’s more than this sixth sense, it is his huge heart. It is his loyalty and his generosity and his spirit. It is knowing that there is someone out there who will speak on the things I speak about without putting a wall of fear between us.

You know, here’s the other thing. The more open a person is, the deeper I go. I mean all the way down, way down to the bone. Because what is life if there is no depth? What is existence without substance? It occurs to me that many people skate along the surface and end up shocked when the ice cracks and they fall through. And that’s all well and good for them. Me, I’m hard at work doing my thing, and I am reminded time and time again by people beautiful like Lin, that life is not a box of chocolates. It is sweet and sour, bitter and pure. Life is like that dancehall song from my earlier years: Life is What You Make It. (raggamuffin love).

William Blake: Subversive and Visionary
Story by Clara Lehman

William Blake was born in London in 1757. He didn’t go to school, but was instead apprenticed to an engraver. Blake was to use the techniques he learnt as a boy throughout the rest of his career. He eventually joined the Royal Academy of Arts in his twenties, and began to mix with radicals who were exploring religious mysticism and political ideas in their work. Blake had grown up with the Bible, but his religious ideas are not easy to encapsulate. He had mystical visions, and was passionate in his religious views, although they were so original that they defy categorization. He believed that man’s imagination itself was ‘the body of God’,or ‘Human existence itself’. Some thought he was mad, and his religious visions the ravings of a lunatic. But this belied the complexity and originality of Blake’s work. He was a voice like no other before and the purity and clarity of his vision is startling even today.

‘Songs of Innocence and Experience’

Blake’s work Songs of Innocence and Experience combines both his religious and radical political ideas. The simple verses in Songs of Innocence were produced in 1789 – the year of the French Revolution. Blake laboriously engraved every poem on an engraving plate and hand colored his designs. He felt the presentation of his poetry was as important as the message they carried. They are extraordinarily beautiful and simple, but the simplicity leads to profound consideration of the ideas expressed. Songs of Experience, published in 1794, provided answers to the questions posed by the first Songs of Innocence, and together Blake intended that they Shewed Two Contrary States of the Human Soul.


In 1789, London was in a state of barely suppressed turmoil, with the French Revolution causing great anxiety amongst the ruling classes, for fear that the insurgency would sweep cross the Channel and take hold in England. Concerns at the time were a million miles away from modern day worries, about mortgage repayments and cycle insurance. There was no notion of consumerism, or material goods for the majority. It was just about survival. The Industrial Revolution was in its infancy, but already conditions were terrible for the working class, who became cogs in the wheels of the factory machines. Radical thinkers embraced the idea that oppressed working people could rise up and change their wretched circumstances. The ruling class hastily imposed new laws banning dissenting voices and meetings, but rumblings of discontent continued unabated and Blake was one such voice. He opposed slavery, the subjugation of women and the use of child labor.

Child Labor

Part of Blake’s fury with of organized religion was his anger at the failure of the church to act on the appalling conditions suffered by children in London at that time. Blake saw children as embodying man’s innocence before ‘experience’, and hence closer to God. Child chimneysweeps’ working conditions at that time were indeed shameful, and they were one group of oppressed workers Blake wrote about furiously and passionately. Children as young as three or four were routinely being sent up chimneys barely nine inches wide, naked so that their bosses would not have to replace their clothing. They would sleep in cellars on the bags of soot they had collected during the day, and rarely washed. The rate of injury to these children was high, with respiratory problem, twisted and broken limbs and death by fire common occurrences. The boys would wander the streets when not working, stealing food. Many regarded them as vermin and not children at all. It was this that enraged Blake, and caused him to challenge both the political and religious systems that allowed it.


Blake’s poem ‘London’ in Songs of Experience was a devastating political and social analysis, condemning the conditions of the industrial revolution, the use of child labor, the appalling plight of young military recruits, and political ‘chartering’ of land. Powerful and angry it encapsulates the turmoil and discontent felt at that time.

London by William Blake
I wander thro’ each charter’d street,
Near where the charter’d Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every Man,
In every Infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear.

How the Chimney-sweeper’s cry
Every black’ning Church appalls;
And the hapless Soldier’s sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls.

But most thro’ midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlot’s curse
Blasts the new-born Infant’s tear
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.

Blake’s Legacy

Mysterious, unknowable, prophetic, mystical, symbolic… there are not enough adjectives to cover Blake’s work, and it is this rich complexity combined with the simplicity of his work, and beautiful engravings, that draws artists to his work time and time again. A true subversive and religious visionary, Blake has influenced artists, poets and musicians for over a century. His life ended in 1827, and his friend George Richmond describes his passing:

“He died…in a most glorious manner. He said he was going to that Country he had all his life wished to see, and expressed Himself Happy, hoping for Salvation through Jesus Christ. Just before he died His Countenance became fair. His eyes Brighten’d and he burst out Singing of the things he saw in Heaven’.


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