PUSHKIN HOUSE, LONDON 22 JUNE - 20 AUGUST 2018 / by Alina Bliumis

Alina Bliumis, AMATEUR BIRD WATCHING AT PASSPORT CONTROL, curated by Elena Zaytseva

Alina Bliumis, Amateur Bird Watching at Passport Control, Dodo, Mauritius, 2016-2017, Relief etching on Rivers BFK paper, 12 x 9 in / 30 x 22 cm, Unique

Alina Bliumis, Amateur Bird Watching at Passport Control, Dodo, Mauritius, 2016-2017, Relief etching on Rivers BFK paper, 12 x 9 in / 30 x 22 cm, Unique

The graphic series Amateur Bird Watching at Passport Control (2016-17), which lends this show its title, explores the human relationship with freedom and nature. It is built around a paradox, revealed by Bliumis in her study of the passport covers of nations all over the world: that birds, the ultimate symbol of freedom, are used on documents controlling international movement. The Belarus-born New-York based artist Bliumis has worked with the themes of geopolitics, national borders, migration and nature throughout her career that spans more then ten years.  

As old as the Bible, the written document allowing the crossing of borders and offering remote protection has been issued by those in power, those who were able to control the movements of people. The first of such known documents was by the Persian king Artaxerxes who issued a letter to the prophet Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:7-9) for travelling to Judea. Notably, the mission of the prophet was to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Since then humankind has built and crossed walls with the aid of written or printed documents, issued by those entitled to control the movements of people.

Pushkin House in London is holding this exhibition on the second anniversary of the Brexit vote, when on the 23rd June 2016 the British nation by a marginal majority voted to leave the European Union. This result, that came as a shock to both sides, has led to a long period of debate about borders, border control and freedom of movement.

This graphic series focuses on the birds - stamped in metallic gold on passport covers all over the world. Their use in hereditary symbols and coats of arms  evokes a series of attitudes, that Bliumis is tapping into. For example, the dominating use of Roman eagles chosen by the majority of states might reflect on expansionist ambitions or - post-colonial condition. The extinct bird Dodo might warn about ecology as well as doves and birds of paradise could refer to relationship between humans and nature that goes as deep as to the pre-historic times when the nation states did not yet exist.

After examining 193 passport covers from countries around the world, the artist discovered  that 43 countries have bird-related creatures as part of their coat of arms, 50 birds in total. For the series, Bliumis isolated each bird from its national symbolic context and drew it true to the source, with a focus on the species’ characteristics: the famous one-legged pose of a flamingo (Bahamas), a vulture in a gliding flight (Mali), an extinct flightless dodo (Mauritius) and a part woman and part bird mythological creature, Harpy (Liechtenstein). Some birds were easy to identify, some required research using various birding resources. Each bird was drawn on  copper plate, etched and printed in a single copy.

“Alina Bliumis came to the USA from Belarus. One of the persistent topics of her art is a reflection on the processes of accommodation and integration in which everyone with a similar background is unavoidably involved. The tone of this reflection is far from being dictated by personal ressentiment or protest. Rather, her attention is drawn by the absurdities of the processes themselves. Her recent projects “Amateur Bird Watching at the Passport Control” and “Political Animals” deal with the images of animals and birds that serve as symbols for different national states and thus put on the official documents, including passports, of their citizens.”

— Boris Groys

Alina Bliumis is New York-based artist. Alina received her BFA from the School of Visual Art in 1999 and a diploma from the Advanced Course in Visual Arts in Fondazione Antonio Ratti, Como, Italy in 2005. 

Alina has exhibited internationally at the First, Second, and Third Moscow Biennales of Contemporary Art (Moscow, Russia), Busan Biennale 2006 (Busan, South Korea), Assab One (Milan, Italy), the Bronx Museum of the Arts (New York, US), Galerie Anne de Villepoix (Paris, France), Centre d’art Contemporain (Meymac, France), The James Gallery, The Graduate Center CUNY (New York, US), Museum of Contemporary Art (Cleveland, US), Museums of Bat Yam (Bat-Yam, Israel), the Jewish Museum (New York, US), the Saatchi Gallery (London, UK) and the Victoria and Albert Museum (London, UK).

Her works are in various private and public collections, including the Moscow Museum of Modern Art (Russia), Museums of Bat Yam (Israel), the Saatchi Collection (UK), the Harvard Business School (US), the Museum of Immigration History, Paris (France) and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (UK).

Amateur Bird Watching at Passport Control, Album 2016- 2017 is comprised of 43 works, 12x9 inches each, relief etching on paper, unique.                                                    

Please note that due to summer holidays the exhibition hours changed.

Exhibition opened on  22 June - 6 July and 11 - 25 August daily 11.00 am - 5 pm

9 July - 10 August by appointment only, t. 02072699770