Interview with Alina + Jeff Bliumis
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Interview with Alina + Jeff Bliumis

Your projects, such as “Casual Conversations project”, “CULTURAL TIPS FOR NEW AMERICANS,” “PAINTING FOR A FAMILY DINNER”, it seems that many of your projects inspire people to consider a community different from their own birth. What is the first thing you two think about when you start a project?

We both immigrated with our families to USA (Jeff as a teenager form Kishinev, Moldova and Alina right after a high school from Minsk, Belarus) we reflect on that physical, political, and socio-cultural journey in our work.

To be a foreigner — one who is defined as not from here — often means unknowingly breaking rigid social and cultural rules. Definitions of these social and cultural standards often say a lot about the native society.

Using communication as the medium par excellence, our projects raise questions around what constitutes community, what constitutes borders, and how the former are shaped by the latter. Most importantly, we acknowledge that language itself can function as a border, as a paradigm of power, and can be used to frame communities. In the words of literary theorist Leo Bersani, language doesn’t merely describe identity but actually produces it.

Often using a research-based approach, we conduct surveys, use quotes, gather stats, and build our work on a collective imagination. Our projects often progress in a range of forms —a community survey turns into works on paper, installation or a performance/lecture.

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Alina and Jeff Bliumis
Cultural Tips For New Americans, 2009-2011, Public Art Project, New York


There’s a lot of division in communities around the world, and it seems that this division is likely to grow further following coronavirus. What do you think artists can do in this situation?

We are thinking a lot about changes the Corona times brought: from the one hand national borders are closed and people are encourage work remotely and do not leave their homes but on the other hand we see active protest movements around the world, when thousands of people are coming together in quest for justice, for example BLM movement in USA or election protests in Minsk, Belarus. We feel that for all of us (including artists) this time is the good time to reflect on all aspects of our lives communal, professional and personal and see what is really essential and important.

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Alina Bliumis
Masses series
2019-2020
Watercolor on printed cotton, wood, 83 x 58 in / 210 x 147 cm each


I’d like to ask you about the project “A PAINTING FOR A FAMILY DINNER. ” You mentioned that this project started in Israel in 2008, so what inspired you to start this project at that time? You have also continued to run it in several locations since then, why is that? (Did you decide to do it in different countries because families are so different in each country? or etc.) The two of you have worked on a number of different series, what made you decide to do this project in Tokyo?

In 2008, we were invited to submit our proposal for an exhibition titled “Hosting” and the Bat-Yam Museum, Israel. We proposed concept for “A PAINTING FOR A FAMILY DINNER” project, it was just an idea and we knew in advance that this project would not be possible without the help of local art organization. We were not sure if any families at all would respond to our newspaper call for participation, but the curators of the exhibition were optimistic. To our surprise, we met with a new family every day for a duration of our project (6 in total) and we were blown away by the family’s hospitality, openness, welcoming and will of communication with strangers.

For the next location, the Bronx, we have been invited to do this project by NY art nonprofit organization NoLongerEmpty and to show the project at the Bronx Museum. We visited 13 families in 14 days, and yes, it was the different country and culture, every family we met had a different hosting style but openness, welcoming and joy of communication were there. At that moment we decided to actively purse the project at various countries. Bringing this project to various locations showed us that we all carry different cultural tradition and speak different languages but in many ways, we are more similar than different. Ultimately our project is about common humanity.

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Alina and Jeff Bliumis
A Painting For A Family Dinner, Bat Yam, Israel
2008

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Alina and Jeff Bliumis
A Painting For A Family Dinner, Bronx, USA
2012

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Alina and Jeff Bliumis
A Painting For A Family Dinner, Beijing, China
2013

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Alina and Jeff Bliumis
A Painting For A Family Dinner, Lecce, Italy
2013

You are participating in a program called “social dive” in which you will dive into the city of Tokyo. What is your image of Tokyo, or current Japan?

We have to admit from the very beginning that we are big fans of Japanese culture, we have a number of Japanese friends in NY and we had 2 weeks trip to the South of Japan in 2008. We have never been in Tokyo and we understand that it might be very different from the south of Japan. We are happy that we will experience Tokyo for the first time in a framework of “social dive” and throughout the interaction with local families.

What do you expect of Tokyo Biennale as an event? What makes Tokyo Biennale different from other art festivals you have participated in?

We are hoping that Tokyo Biennale will bring artists and public together for a meaningful experience and conversation, and we are hoping that the “social dive” will be achieved despite any barriers and circumstances.

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Alina and Jeff Bliumis
Language Barrier, Andes, NY, 2006-2008, Site-specific installation, Cast foam, acrylic, ink, Dimensions variable
* Language Barrier, Andes, NY, 2006-2008
The term barrier is a statement of perceived circumstance. Whether keeping something out, or something else in, the word signifies a thing at times physical and metaphorical, demarcating a space known from one unknown or one once known, an emphatic reminder of the difference between here and there. Or is it? A confrontation with a barrier may provide also a moment of arrest, an exposure to a rip in the fabric of quotidian life that allows us to examine our behaviors, movements and communications. Barriers can be permeable.


Please share the current situation of your project for Tokyo Biennale. What kind of art project / artwork it will be like?

Because our project A Painting For A Family Dinner is embedded in the real life of the community, and depended on the participation of local residents, we are looking forward to our experience. We can plan only so much in advance, the artists and the families are equal and active co-creators of the project, so we will create it together with families in Tokyo.

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Alina and Jeff Bliumis
We are ready!
Documentation of A Painting For A Family Dinner, Beijing, China
2013

I think it’s an inconvenience now that Corona is raging around the world. What did you think about in response to it?

We are agree that it is not only an inconvenience but also a tragedy, many lives lost, immigrants stock at the borders, hunger, fear, emotion stress and so on but we as people have to come together, face the problems and try to figure it out on all the levels.

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Jeff Bliumis
Supreme
oil on linen
20 x 20 inches
2020

It’s been said that mobility of people will be difficult since coronavirus’s outbreak, what impact do you think it will have on your artwork? Also, what do you plan in response to it?

For example, I (Alina) have a show Narrating Against the Grain at the Kunstihoone, Tallinn, Estonia; curator Corina L. Apostol , opening July 16-September 6. Fortunately, I was in Tallinn in February for an artist talk and was able to see the space. My show was not canceled and we worked remotely but very close with the curator and twerp able to do all we planned, all the work was produced and installed as planed, we did installation and artist talk together with video chat. We also were able to do a big public project, placing 30 flags around Tallinn. As artists we always have to be resourceful and work around the circumstances, this time was not different.

All my project at the show were about traveling, passports, national borders and a notion of a global citizen and it was interesting to present these works in this time when the world as we knew was placed on “hold”.

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Installation shot: ALINA BLIUMIS, NARRATING AGAINST THE GRAIN, Curated by Corina L. Apostol, Tallinn Art Hall, Estonia, July 17 - September 6, 2020
photo by: Paul_Kuimet

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Installation shot: ALINA BLIUMIS, NARRATING AGAINST THE GRAIN, Curated by Corina L. Apostol, Tallinn Art Hall, Estonia, July 17 - September 6, 2020
photo by: Paul_Kuimet

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ALINA BLIUMIS, AMATEUR BIG GAT WATCHING AT PASSPORT CONTROL FLAGS
30 flags at various location in Tallinn, Estonia; Part of NARRATING AGAINST THE GRAIN exhibition, curated by Corina L. Apostol at Tallinn Art Hall
July-September 2020, photo by: Paul_Kuimet

What kind of impact do you think you can have on society through your artwork? Also, what kind of power do you think art has?

Throughout our art practice, we engage in an ongoing investigation into the formation of national identity, its historical and geographical roots and its ambitions in global geopolitics.

Our work is rooted in the desire to communicate through difference. We are welcoming the possibilities of communication with a stranger literally as part of our projects “A Painting For A Family Dinner,” “Cultural Tips for New Americans” and “Casual Conversations” and also through our art with the public.

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Alina and Jeff Bliumis
Casual Conversations, 2007-2014, Series of 1914 photographs, C-print, 4 x 6 inches each


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