Interview with Alina Bliumis


Author: Anastasia Runets

Translator: Darya Makavchik

A New York based artist Alina Bliumis presented her exhibition “Classification Patterns: Christian, Muhammad, Lee” in “Ў” Gallery of Contemporary Art on October 9.

Dadalog was lucky to be present at the opening and got Alina to share some insights about her motherland, as well as the image of a modern artist.

Alina Bliumis was born in Minsk and studied in an Art College named after I. Achremchik. She then moved to New York, graduated from the School of Visual Arts with a BFA and continued her education in Italy. There, in Komo, she got a diploma from an Advanced Course in Visual Arts in Fondazione Antinio Ratti. Nowadays Alina exhibits all across Europe and the USA; her individual works can also be found in both private and public collections all over the world.

“Classification Patterns: Christian, Muhammad, Lee” is Alina’s first personal exhibition in Belarus. It features her works from such projects as “Most of Us Are”, “Amateur Watching at Passport Control”, “My Soviet Childhood, He” and “My Soviet Childhood, She”. The exposition is curated by Irena Popiashvili and can be seen in “Ў” Gallery up to October 31. At the same time, another exhibition is currently held in Gallerie Anne de Villepoix (Paris). For more information about Alina Bliumis and her projects, please visit
her personal website.

Alina's Instagram - @alinabliumis

Anastasia:  When was you last visit Belarus?

      Alina:  Three years ago. For the first time in 26 years I came here and stayed for about 5 days. I was waiting for a good reason for visit, like some kind of exhibition or another cultural event, but nothing seemed to be happening. So I came just for the sake of it, to get a fresh outlook on things. And now this visit has become my second one.

A:  What do you feel coming back here?

     А:  Perhaps, I have a good impression in general, if impressions may even be described that way. Just like the other countries – the people are nice and it’s quite entertaining. Although at first the city seemed a bit empty, I can’t point out anything particularly negative.

A:  Where did you first go or perhaps still planning to go in Minsk?

      А: When I came here for the first time, I visited my school (an Art College named by I.Achremchik), then went to my grandparents’, the place where I was born. But this time I feel no need for such a nostalgic tour. I’ve only come for 10 days, to install and open an exhibition, and then me and my friends are going to museums – The National Art
Museum, The Savitsky Museum, The Memorial Museum of Zair Azgur – we have big 
plans, basically. One girl wants to visit the Cat Museum, another mutual friend of ours will hold an architecture exhibition at the Palace of Art, so that’s on the list as well.

Exhibition opening in "Ў" Gallery of Contemporary art

Н:  Do you monitor the development of art in Belarus and around the Post-Soviet area?

     А:  I read the news websites and I also have a subscription to Andrei Dureiko’s newsletter. Every month he sends out the announcements of what some Belarusian artists are up to, the ones who migrated, and collects some other information of the kind. So I don’t really monitor, I am just aware.

A:  What would you recommend a Belarusian artist who wants to reach the same level as international creators?

      А:  Let’s ask Irena about it, as a curator she’ll give a better response.

      Irena:  The main thing is to prepare a decent portfolio. You also have to keep an eye on international news in that area, make sure to read some publications. Be aware of the exhibitions that take place and which galleries may be interested in them; open-calls are launched quite often. And exhibit around the country, of course. Not necessarily in
galleries or museums: artists can hold a one-day exhibition or do pretty much anything to grab public attention. The curators themselves must become curious. They are the ones who help artists carry their works forward.

A:  Your exhibition touches upon the notion of a ‘global citizen’. Do you feel like one yourself? And why?

     А:  I believe so. Lately we’ve been discussing my origin quite a lot, like me coming from Minsk, though living in New York. I don’t want to be an American artist, but neither do I want to be a Belarusian one. I like that niche between the two cultures and the fact that I don’t completely belong to any of them. Is that being a ‘global citizen? I’d prefer the word ‘cosmopolitan’, although it used to be a curse during the Soviet times.

A:  How would you define a citizen of the world then?

      А:  It’s a kind of freedom, when you are beyond any possible concepts. As they say, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. So I don’t come to another country with my own orders. I rather observe how people live and try to adapt to their lifestyle. Different countries have different mentalities, and I am okay with that. People just have to be a bit more flexible.

A:  Do you think there is such a thing as a ‘non-national’ artist?

     А: I suppose there is. It’s much better to be unique and represent your nation, rather than “to be” national. Art is an international language. You should be able to explain your values in a way that is clear even beyond culture, and that is very difficult. There are tons of artists creating works only for their own little environments, where people already know and understand everything. But it’s also important to convey something to the viewer, who has no idea about you and your culture.

A:  Is ‘the viewer’ here simply anybody or the one having some kind of a background?

     А:  I feel like it can be anyone. It’s impossible to say that we are only creating something for those who understand what contemporary art is. It’s a very limited approach. I’m not even talking about any specific genres, I mean art in general. Lots of museums nowadays try to popularize art, while tourists come to cities just to visit the museums. Everyone can understand art. If no one does, chances are, it hasn’t been worked upon properly.

A:  Don’t you think that art may lose a part of itself if it becomes too widespread?

      А:  It will never become that widespread. To see a piece of art you have to actually come to the museum. This is an extra step and not an easy one to take. You can always read a book at home or listen to music in your car, but art requires going to a separate place. So its elitism isn’t always a positive trait.

A:  How do you maintain a sense of your own ‘self’ among all the names and averaged characteristics?

     А:  I want to share how this idea of working with statistics even appeared. I was talking to one Russian woman, who had a huge influence in the art sphere, and she was projecting European values onto African art. I found it quite amusing – the fact that I was born in Minsk, live in New York and keep talking about European values, about this culture. Europe itself is quite small, actually. So I became curious, what values does an average citizen have. My favorite questions to ask were what do people dream of and what do they dream about. The most popular night dreams were either falling or being publicly naked, and our deepest aspirations are mainly future-related. All these points – being 28, Christian, Muhammad by name, Ali by surname – are only true with a comma in between. Remove it, and such a person won’t actually exist.

A:  You work together with Jeff Bliumis quite often. What’s more challenging – working independently or cooperating?

     А:  We were working together for many years and things were going very smoothly. We’ve always had conceptual, I mean, idea-based projects. But when it comes to practice, we aren’t really on the same page. Now we work separately, and there is a certain charm to it. No need to discuss anything, just doing whatever we want. However, when it comes to the old projects, we do cooperate. Maybe one day we’ll work together again, but for now it’s just that kind of a phase.

A:  What’s next? Can you share any future artistic plans?

      А:  I’ll get back to work in a studio. I want to create something related to Belarus a bit.

A:  What does being an artist in New York feel like?

     А:  I feel like being an artist is amazing anywhere. It’s neither harder nor easier than in any other cities. Your work is always with you. Self-expression comes from within, regardless of where you are.

A:  Can a good artist be unpopular?

      А:  Of course. There even is a research, for example, if you open a 20-year-old Artforum and look at the most famous artists at the time, you’re unlikely to find any familiar names. Now you have no idea about these people. Fame is not something an artist should strive towards. And the same thing applies to art and making money.

A:  Should a modern artist create something new or reinvent the old? How would you define an artist and his primary goal?

     А:  There is no need in reinventing the wheel, however, you can still take a fresh look on things that already exist. The outlook itself should be new, not the product. It’s all about the ideas, and the main goal is self-expression. For me it’s something like a process, something happening in the mind – the idea, the view, the analytics. And an artist is the one who thinks, I guess. And this, of course, has nothing to do with drawing skills.