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  • Movable AuraThe Blurred Realities of Alina and Jeff Bliumis
  • Jill Conner (bio)

Alina and Jeff Bliumis, Casual Conversations in Brooklyn, an exhibition at the Black and White Project Space, Brooklyn, New York, March 7–June 14, 2009.

As Roberta Smith recently wrote, “There is a whole lot of art making going on right now. But you’d hardly know it from the contemporary art that New York’s major museums have been serving up lately.”1 Smith’s article in The New York Times conveys a strong reaction to reductivist, performative art and instead reflects a longing for the art object that had all but been eliminated in Tino Seghal’s carefully orchestrated series of performances that took place in the vast, empty space of the Guggenheim Museum from January to March, 2010. Subtle, unstaged performances have developed profusely since the 1960s when Fluxus utilized the non-spectacle of the daily mundane as a means to critique the degree of passivity that is intrinsic to everyday ritual. In fact specific actions that respond to individual needs—such as waking up from sleep, eating breakfast, and going to work—have become part of a shared pattern that has appeared throughout mainstream media such as television, cinema, newsprint, and consumer magazines.

In March 2009 Alina and Jeff Bliumis launched Casual Conversations at the Black and White Project Space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which combined their interest in performance, installation, and collaboration. Three performances, or gatherings as they were called, took place over the course of three months, inviting anyone from the neighborhood to stop by, partake of some wine, and converse. As two cameras rotated unnoticeably around the room, this artist duo engaged in casual conversations with others and, by doing so, elicited the various ironies inherent within interpersonal communication. Following each performance, the artists installed a copy of each video on separate screens, with headphones, available for public view.

The interior of the project space appeared empty from the outset. A stack of books appeared in one corner and was titled Traveling Library (2009), while several others titled Cultural Tips for New Americans (2009) appeared to be left open on a shelf that was attached to [End Page 43]

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Top: Traveling Library Series, 2009, foam, acrylic and ink, dimensions variable.

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Bottom: Let’s Drink. Let’s Talk. Free. “We invited visitors to drink with us, talk, share a story, or make a toast.” Photos: Courtesy Alina and Jeff Bliumis.

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a wall. A swirling black rack of postcards, available to the public, was left sitting next to the front desk. Each one depicted images from two previous interactive projects, American Dream (2007) and Identity (2007), both of which involved the artists randomly meeting residents in one of Brooklyn’s Russian-speaking neighborhoods and asking them to phrase their dream or idea of America in a large dialogue bubble that they then held onto for a photograph made by the artists.

The exterior of the project space appeared equally spare, consisting only of a vast outdoor wall mural made of Astroturf that captured an otherwise unhappy portrait of a woman holding a sign reading, “Be Happy!” This could be seen from the main entrance and even beyond that, from the street. Not only were material objects few and far between, but with a series of interactions named Let’s Drink. Let’s Talk. Free (2009), framed by a table, the Bliumises created a context within the white-box art-gallery setting that shifted the concept of contemporary exhibition space away from being a satellite of conspicuous consumption to an open space where random interactions could take place.

Communication was the subject of each component in this installation, even though the books on view were fake and cast from foam, highlighting the artists’ interest in the mundane and mass-produced. Combined with the Classical Heads Series (2009) the artists created an unpretentious setting that questioned the myth of the present and simultaneously appealed to one’s desire to know. In The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard suggests that geometry is also inherent within one’s sense of...


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pp. 43-47
Launched on MUSE
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