Language Barrier / Lower Manhattan, New York
September 29-October 3, 2008
Public Art Installation
Cast foam, acrylic and ink
Dimensions variable

"Language Barrier" is an ongoing project by Alina and Jeff Bliumis, artists originally from the former Soviet Union. Site-specific installation "Language Barrier" engages issues of immigration, assimilation and alienation among the various diasporic communities of lower Manhattan. The artists selected five different sites in lower Manhattan, each selected for its contemporary and historical significance and intervene in various corridors with piles of foam "dictionaries".

By obscuring sightlines, blocking windows and physically interrupting daily routines, the artists draw attention to the social and cultural differences that characterize life in New York City throughout its history. For the lower Manhattan installation, every site represents an aspect of the community, geography and past of this vibrant area, from its importance as a farm, to its own Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century, to its gentrification into the coveted real estate it is today. Within this sea of change, different immigrant populations struggled and continue to grapple with questions of communication, adaptation and social reorganization.

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Language Barrier / Lower Manhattan, New York
Duane Park / Intersection of Duane Street and Hudson Street
September 29 / 3-7PM

Named after James Duane (1733-1797) New York's first mayor after the Revolutionary War, Duane Park is the last remaining corner of a 62-acre farm belonging to a Dutch settler named Anneke Jans Bogardus whose husband received the land from the governor of New Amsterdam in 1636. As the first public space acquired by the City specifically for use as a public park, this 0.115 acre piece was bought from the Trinity Church for five dollars in 1797. Surrounded by distinct and elegant buildings in what used to be the eggs and butter district in the nineteenth century, the space remains a reminder of a rural landscape long gone, as well as testament to the belief that verdant open spaces within urban environments are both vital and central to communal living. Representing both a place-the country--and a time not present, its mannered paths and plantings exemplify the twinning of philosophic concerns and a pragmatic approach put to the task of preserving the natural world.

Language Barrier / Lower Manhattan, New York
Patel News Stand / NE Corner of Church Street and Park Place
September 30 / 8-11AM

The newsstand awakens with the city, an integral stop in the morning for most commuters. As the first place one might go after leaving home, the stand exists between one destination and the next, a pivotal, but usually very brief interaction. Physically the structure mirrors this status, neither completely permanent nor completely temporary, having as much inside as outside. As a place of transaction, the stand is stocked with a commodity that is in itself ephemeral, portable and disposable. News is only as good as it is relevant and old news is yesterday's news. And yet for all this immediacy and transience, the newsstand and often the newsagent become a glue of shared experience in the comfort of daily ritual. Kiosks reflect the demographics of their population-the languages, interests and lifestyle choices packed into their dense shelves. Furthermore, it is a place of information distribution, of potential communication, across the political, social and cultural spectrums that constitute the public sphere.

Language Barrier / Lower Manhattan, New York
Jin Market / 111 Hudson Street
October 1 / 3-6PM

Delis are quintessentially New York. Historically immigrant owned, they reflect the diversity of the communities they serve and the ones from which they came. And in true Big Apple tradition, they are often open 24 hours a day. Convenient, comprehensive and quick. Whether one needs toothpaste, coffee or chocolate, the market has it all.

Fresh flowers adorn Jin Market's front wall, flown in from all around the world, Ecuadorian roses, Californian gladioli and Dutch tulips. But behind this colorful facade lies the complexity of the global marketplace that provided them, a vast network of relations, commercial, physical, temporal, political and social, that underpin every daily transaction and purchase. Seemingly picked from an adjacent park, each fragile stem passed through a long line of people, of languages and translations, from countries thousands of miles away to your corner store, so that you may bring something so recently growing in the earth home in the metropolis.

Language Barrier / Lower Manhattan, New York
Civitella Ranieri Foundation / 28 Hubert Street
October 2 / 3-6PM

Located in two sites, one blocks from the Hudson River in a nineteenth century building formerly used as a warehouse, and the other, a fifteenth century castle in the Umbria region of Italy, the Foundation bridges centuries, continents and also communities. Artists first moved into Tribeca in the 1950s, attracted by the cheap large loft spaces that had been vacated by wholesalers and manufacturers moving elsewhere. Ignoring the zoning laws, they lived in their studio spaces, creating the vibrant and close communities. With its residency program in Italy based on the vision of its founder Ursula Corning, the Foundation creates temporary communities that are international and multi-disciplinary, allowing artists to work in a different pastoral environment dedicated to creative practice. By blocking the windows between the City street and the office, the installation of dictionaries both insists upon the differences between these unique environments and suggests the possibility of cultural exchange and communication.

Language Barrier / Lower Manhattan, New York
Express Shoe Repair and Barber Shop / 59 Franklin Street
October 3 / 3-6PM

It may be difficult to imagine the elevated train lines, the horse-drawn buggies and later the vast textile business that characterized Worth Village, the US textile capital of the late 19th century. Situated in the heart of this formerly prodigious industrial area, 59 Franklin Street used to be a cloth warehouse. Now, Express Shoe Repair and Barber Shop, owned by Yurev Israelov, a Russian Jew from the former Soviet Union, is one of the last commercial tenants on the block. In November 2008, he may move out and the entire building converted to condominiums, a fate that had befallen many a business and building in the continuing gentrification of these formerly working class neighborhoods. Like many spaces in Tribeca, the building is home to a diverse group of longtime residents and artists.

Yurev runs traditional businesses that are fast disappearing, let alone this unusual combination under one roof. A row of shoeshine chairs faces the backs of a row of parallel barber chairs, both lines redolent of another time, a different set of voices. Exposing and cutting through differences of class and race, these traditional professions are either quickly transforming or dying out.

Language Barrier / Lower Manhattan, NY
C-print, 24 x 24 in, edition of 6

"Language Barrier / Lower Manhattan" has been made possible, in part, by a grant from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council with the generous support of The September 11th Fund. Additionally, this project is supported in part with funds from the Strategic Opportunity Stipends Program through New York Foundation for the Arts and New York State Council on the Arts, administered in the Central Region by Upper Catskill Community Council of the Arts.

Language Barrier / Andes, NY (2008) a series of seven photographs, c print, 24 x 24 in, edition of 6 VIEW >>>