BEAUTIFUL S TRANGE
Exploring identity through cinematically inspired images, visual artist Alex Plumb's work has earned him one of the most sought-after nods in the local photographic scene — the Auckland Festival of Photography’s Annual Commission
Now in its 15th year, the Auckland Festival of Photography has turned our largest city into a veritable playground of annual photographic delights and become a valuable platform for advancing the careers of emerging artists. Along with its staggering programme of citywide exhibitions, talks, and workshops, the festival also grants its Annual Commission to one promising upand-coming photographer each year. Past recipients have included such luminaries as Janet Lilo, Russ Flatt, Tanu Gago, and James K Lowe, and this year is set to be no less inspiring with talented visual artist Alex Plumb tapped to create a new body of work for the festival. “I’m really thrilled,” the young artist says of his win. “I know some of the artists who have previously won the commission, and I look up to them. They’re great artists.”
Alex sits quite comfortably in the impressive company of commission winners, his own practice having evolved to a fascinating position between still and moving image, enthralling viewers with vivid repetitions. Inspired by the intricate tableau creations of photographers such as Auckland’s Russ Flatt and American Gregory Crewdson, as well as cinematic masters such as David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick, the artist’s work presents a highly stylized frame for everyday reality. “It sits between the real and the imagined, continually moving back and forth between those two zones,” Alex explains. “Creative imagery that challenges the viewer with the notion of what’s real and what’s imaginary.” The artist’s work caught the eye of this year’s commissioning panel thanks to its strong technical acumen, dynamic aesthetic, and playful exploration of rich themes. His imagery is instantly
arresting, with luridly contrasting colours imagining scenes of mundane domesticity through a dreamlike filter. The camera frame is Alex’s stage — on which he considers, with theatrical energy, ideas of representation, attraction, and performance. “As a gay man, I’ve always been interested in desire and identity politics. Since going through art school, I’ve been looking at my own identity and the way in which we become all of these things we become. Through playful and stylized acts, I tease the dominant or stable form of masculinity in my works.” In his new work for the festival, Alex continues to look inward for inspiration but is focusing on another element of his identity, his Latin heritage. Born in Aotearoa, he is half Bolivian, and lived in Bolivia from the age of two to eight, learning Spanish as his first language. He is now interested in revisiting these cultural roots through his artistic practice. “Otherness has always been part of my life, whether it has been cultural or through my sexuality,” he says. “Looking in at people from the outside, I think that’s what motivates a lot of my work.”
"As a gay man, I’ve always been interested in desire and identity politics. Since going through art school, I’ve been looking at my own identity and the way in which we become all of these things we become."
The artist has been back to visit his one-time home in the heart of South America twice, with the most recent trip last year resulting in the creation of a new work called Rosario. He had not planned to create the short video, which meanders through a neighbourhood housing complex, but the locale was so inspiring that he felt he had no choice. “What struck me most was this really bizarre mix of different things expressed in everyday life: there’s a strong Catholicism, especially with the older generations, but also strong indigenous beliefs, and Western values and symbols,” Alex recalls. “They’re all kind of spliced together and mixed in everyday life, so visually it’s quite a feast.” Home again, the artist continues to examine the Bolivia-inspired themes in his commission work, but with an antipodean twist. He says that he’s interested in exploring a “new kind of emerging Latin queer identity” within the Western context of home. “I’m thinking about immigration, Latin communities living here, and what life looks like through that lens.” As well as work destined for art galleries, Alex has recently started to create longer video pieces — short films entered in the film festival circuit. His first, The Luring, was released last year and deals with themes of desire and isolation through a three-part narrative based on character monologues. The film was selected for the Barcelona International Film Festival, Venice Film Week,
Aesthetica Short Film Festival, New York Lift-Off Film Festival, and the Auckland International Film Festival (in which it was awarded Best Experimental Film). Not one to rest on his laurels, the artist has spent six months putting together his next short film, Golden Boy, which will also go out to festivals, as well as working on his new commission work. The exhibition for the Auckland Festival of Photography, to be shown in the impressive Silo Park on Auckland’s waterfront, will be the biggest public exhibition of his work to date — an opportunity that he’s looking to expand into exhibiting overseas, and perhaps a long-yearned-for residency. “I’m yet to do one,” he says with a chuckle. “I think if I don’t get one I’m just going to make my own: go somewhere and make work.” The unveiling of Alex’s new work for the Auckland Festival of Photography’s Annual Commission takes place at 6pm on Thursday, May 31 at Silo Park in Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter. The exhibition will run from May 31 to June 19, visit photographyfestival.org.nz for more details.
HAVANA GREEN (2015)