BEAU­TI­FUL S TRANGE

New Zealand D-Photo - - FOLIO | ALEX PLUMB - WORDS | ADRIAN HATWELL

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.

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