Brooklyn boasts inhabitants from all the four corners of the world and everywhere in between. But why did these people come here? And what do they do once they arrive?
In an attempt to shed light on the experience that many newcomers go through in the immigration capital of the world, Williamsburg’s Black and White Projects Space presents “Casual Conversations in Brooklyn,” the inaugural exhibition of installation-artist team Alina and Jeff Bliumis, a husband and wife who moved to the United States from the former Soviet Union a long time ago.
“This exhibit explores the American identity as a starting point,” said Tatyana Okshteyn, the owner and director of Black and White Project Space. “It translates very easily into every immigrant experience.”
The show consists of several installations that will grow and beget new projects as the three-month-long exhibit progresses.
“Now is the first stage of us moving into the gallery,” said artist Jeff Bliumis. “Slowly it will become a more livable space, as if we moved to a new country.”
In a corner is the installation “Luggage for Immigrants.” Neat piles of plaster-molded books with ironic titles like “Nonsense” and “For Dummies,” and dictionaries are stacked against walls. On top of the books stand busts of Russian cultural icons such as the poet Alexander Pushkin. The books, which symbolize the knowledge and culture people bring to a new place, are stacked on the floor to emphasize the “just arrived” status of the exhibition.
Post-cards of people holding up signs that signify their identity decorate a wall. Alina and Jeff found people in the heavily Russian-immigrant community of Brighton Beach and asked them to hold up a sign that represents their identity. Postcards show people holding up signs that read “Russian-American,” “Jewish” and “Cosmopolitan.” Next to these cards them are another group of post-cards of people in a Brighton Beach bookstore holding thought bubbles with what their American dream is. A woman holds a thought bubble that reads “Be a good person,” an old couple holds one that says “Save our children.” A pretty young woman holds one that says “Be happy.” This young woman is also the inspiration behind “Be Happy,” a huge installation in the backyard of the gallery. An outline of her image hovers over a patch of Astroturf, representing the notion of “the grass is greener on the other side.”
The centerpiece of the exhibition is a large table in the center of the room, covered in Newspapers and a variety of the ultimate conversation starter–alcohol. The installation, “Let’s drink. Let’s talk. Free.,” invites the viewers sit around the table, have a drink, eat and partake in conversation with each other. The artists periodically join the group at the table to partake in the installation. “Let’s drink. Let’s talk. Free.,” will be repeated in April and May, so that artists will get a chance to hear more conversations. After They will take the bits and pieces of overheard conversation and will create art works inspired by the conversations as the exhibition progresses.
The Bluimises installed a sound system in the shower in the gallery’s bathroom with recordings of people singing while in the shower. Some of the songs include “Over the Rainbow,” “Like a Virgin” by Madonna and an old Russian romance song. More songs will be added to the recording throughout the show.
Three video monitors with headphones line the back wall. The middle monitor features a film of an earlier “Let’s drink. Let’s talk. Free.” which features random Russian people drinking and making toasts with the Bluimises at a Brighton Beach liquor store.
The exhibition is typical of the type of work the Bluimises do, installations that generally deal with migrations. Jeff Bliumis said that their approach takes art out of the studio and into the real world, making regular people the muses behind their work, which aims to foster connections between cultures.
“We all want very basic, banal, every-day kind of things,” said Bliumis. “We are all the same.”
“Let’s drink. Let’s talk. Free.” will be installed again on April 10 and May 8 from 7-9 pm at Black and White Project Space.
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