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Music Video Borrows From 200-Million-Year-Old Artist And Disappears


It's You Tube's 17th Most Viewed Video of All Time, and the 4th Most Liked, "Somebody That I Used to Know." sung principally by Wouter "Wally" De Backer, also known as "Gotye," who took his clothes off and got a paintjob from designer Emma Hack.

Emma covered naked Wally with color patches, set him (and another singer, Kimra) in front of a painted backdrop. When she was done the two singers blended in and became part of the painting. It's a pretty cool display of camouflage technique.

It's nothing new, though. Far from it.

I'm thinking, most recently, of Liu Bolin, a Chinese artist who can almost totally disappear — and he does it in ordinary settings. No fancy art backgrounds. Here he isn't (actually he is) in a supermarket. (Look for his shoes.)

/ Courtesy Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin
Courtesy Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin

...in front of a telephone booth...

/ Courtesy Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin
Courtesy Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin

...standing in front the Great Wall...

/ Courtesy Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin
Courtesy Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin

About a hundred years before Mr. Liu, American painter Abbott Handerson Thayer and his student Richard Meryman used this same technique, this time to demonstrate how animals do it even better. In Concealing-Coloration in the Animal Kingdom (1909), they imagined a peacock in full feather hiding in the woods. It's in there. If you look hard enough you will see it.

<p>Peacock in the Woods by Abbott Handerson Thayer</p>
Abbott Handerson Thayer / Smithsonian American Art Museum
Smithsonian American Art Museum

Peacock in the Woods by Abbott Handerson Thayer

Thayer was just showing off pheasant cunning. But what a pheasant can do, a cuttlefish does even better. These little sea creatures have no shells, no powerful tentacles, no obvious protection, but they can disappear right in front of you. They have pigments in their skin that can mimic the sand, the sea plants, the rippling light that surrounds them.

There are, of course, You Tube videos of cuttlefish doing their thing (When I was at ABC News, I did one myself — I've blogged about it before, but here it is again, just to put Gotye, the recording artist, in proper evolutionary context).

And yes, cuttlefish don't attract as much attention as these Johnny-Come-Lately's from Australia (that's where Gotye's from) or from China (home to Liu), but so what? That's how they've survived for the last 200 million years. Gotye's video has been watched 350 million times so far. Cuttlefish videos? A few thousand hits.

Which is a good thing. After all, not being noticed is what cuttlefish do best.

It's the essence of cuttlefishiness.

If you haven't seen Gotye's 2011 video, "Somebody That I Used to Know," here it is, directed by Natasha Pincus, art design by Emma Hack.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Robert Krulwich works on radio, podcasts, video, the blogosphere. He has been called "the most inventive network reporter in television" by TV Guide.

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