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Liminal London: The Transformative Art of Alexandra Blum

London is a place of perpetual reinvention. Everywhere you look, cranes dominate the skyline even as diverted traffic navigates its way around the streets below. With many London postcodes in the process of ‘gentrification’, SEEN was fortunate enough to visit the studio of artist Alexandra Blum recently.

London is a place of perpetual reinvention. Everywhere you look, cranes dominate the skyline even as diverted traffic navigates its way around the streets below. With many London postcodes in the process of ‘gentrification’, SEEN was fortunate enough to visit the studio of artist Alexandra Blum recently.

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She charted the changes taking place in her native Dalston, where she was artist-in-residence on a Barratts building site in 2008 – 2009. This gave her a unique perspective not only on the construction of the building itself as it evolved around her, but also the world beyond: the streets, roofs, skyline, birds and clouds. As she sketched in the streets below, local people stopped to chat and exchange stories of their life experiences, all of which fed into the finished pieces. But the completed works are not just visual records of what Alexandra saw, they are also bridges of time and space, evoking renaissance masterpieces that seek to tell an epic, timeless story, eschewing conventional artistic ideas of perspective.

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She also had the opportunity to draw in the apartment of two of the new residents, delineating their domestic arrangements within the new buildings, yet linking them to the outside environment. Humans are present in their absence from the finished drawings, creating a modern version of Dennis Severs’ house, where the occupants have only just stepped from the room. The pictures are incredibly detailed and layered, built up over a series of sessions.

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The viewer has a powerful sense of the artist’s presence as she renders her views in a truly panoramic way. The effect is dizzying, vertiginous, but also hypnotic. It’s easy to think of buildings as monolithic, static and immoveable, yet Alexandra’s drawings capture the buildings’ transitory, ever-changing qualities, not only in their construction and initial ‘nakedness’ but also in their inhabitation and domestication by human occupants. All these qualities exist in the finished works, encapsulating the complexity of London living and how this ancient and historic city must reinvent itself constantly to stay alive.

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Alexandra’s work can be seen in the Museum of Hackney and the Geffrye Museum. Two of her drawings will also be shown as part of the Derwent Art Prize in the Mall Galleries from 19th September.

www.alexblum.co.uk

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