Izabela Pluta (b. Poland, lives in Australia) | Variable depth, shallow water, 2020

Izabela Pluta, Variable depth, shallow water, 2020

My name is Izabela Pluta. I’m a Polish-born Australian artist living and working between the lands of the Awabakal and Worimi in Awabakal country (Newcastle) and the lands of the Bidjigal and Gadigal (Sydney).

My practice spans photography and installation. I left Poland when I was 6 years old — we took the train to Germany during a state of martial law in 1986. Our journey to settle in Australia followed many months of living in a small town in the district of Schaumburg, where we were supported as political refugees. The might and upheaval of migrating and the effect that shifting homelands had on me to seek a new sense of belonging influences my work. I have since come to observe natural environments and sense the intense tone and the hues of sunlight in Australia to find that certain places feel unfamiliar to me still – I long for a place that is always out of reach.

In 2019 I was commissioned to create a significant new work by the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney for 'The National 2019: new Australian art' survey exhibition. This work drew on what I saw and felt underwater while diving on a fault line, where the Pacific Ocean and the East China Sea meet. The work became a 30-meter undulating wall-scaled installation from dye-sublimation prints on fabric and photographs printed onto aluminium.

I am currently working towards a major solo exhibition at UNSW Galleries in Sydney, a large-scale commissioned for a new museum opening in November, and a new project with Cyprian-born, Venice-based curator, Hesperia Iliadouto, to be shown in London.  

Variable depth, shallow water

My first European solo exhibition, 'Variable depth, shallow water', opened last month at Spazju Kreattiv, Malta’s National Centre for Creativity in Valetta. I want to present today a sculptural work from this exhibition that signals a type of map storage construction that I made as another way to disorientate the viewer. 

It presents small photographs printed on aluminium and traditional darkroom prints and photographs of ariel footage filmed by a drone. These include depictions of the ocean where rocks appear beneath its surface and images that resemble maps — made with a camera-less process of printing full-page maps from an outdated atlas of the world’s oceans. I make these by firstly pulling apart the atlas at the spine. I then place each map under the enlarger in the darkroom. When the incandescent light passes through the paper’s surface, it fuses both sides of the map erasing the original markings to form a new version of what the ocean could be. 

The installation was influenced by corrupted film data that I shot on Gozo, Malta, in 2019 using a drone that I lost at sea during the work’s making. The drone crashed into the cliff face from which the sea arch of Dwejra originally fell away two years earlier. The camera sunk amidst the debris of the rocks — it was retrieved by local divers and returned to me in Australia on the memory card several weeks later. When diving underwater, I can not make sense of the distance, and I become sensitive to the physical slippage between floating and drifting. So many variables are at play and beyond my control. I am completely unanchored, lingering in an ever-fluctuating expanse between my body and the rocks — forced to give way to the invisible movement of water.

I understand and use light as a form, concept, and subject in my work is also important. Light is the source of production of what I make, but it is also the focus (literally depicted in photographs) and the very thing that I long for in another place. I am deeply aware of how different light is here to what I grew up with. When I travel to Europe, I am a magnet for the light because it has always felt more familiar. I have always been more comfortable photographing in it instead of in my new Australian home. 

In the installation of this work, I take away the emphasis from the details of the individual photographs to how light is reflected, refracted or absorbed in the substrate of the photographic panels and their precarious arrangement. The sense of looking but not being able to see something clearly, or the degree to how legible an image is, is always at play in how I assemble images within installations. I see myself as a type of ‘interpreter’ of my experience of trying to find the familiar in another place — over and over again.

I am eager to develop curatorial dialogues with institutions outside Australia to exhibit a new iteration of this work alongside new works in the future. 

Please follow me on IG @izabelapluta__studio to follow the development of the next tangent of this project. 




Variable depth, shallow water, 2020. Silver gelatine photographs, pigment prints on aluminium, dye-sublimation prints, chromogenic prints, polyester waddling straps, two-way acrylic, aluminium, polyester resin. 600 x 200 x 150 cm (overall installation). 

Presented at SPAZJU KREATTIV, Valletta, Malta, 5 March-11 April, 2021 | Curators: Nicole Bearman and Francesca Mangion.