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James Pfaff: Alex & Me

Street Level, Glasgow until July 1st
Four stars

‘Ever been Changed by Someone?’ asks the nightclub-coloured neon sign from the corner wall of Glasgow-born artist James Pfaff’s intimate excavation and reconstruction of his own past. As the words beam out in scrawly hand-writing, given the extent which Pfaff has been so profoundly affected by his subject, the words might just as well be Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)?

Such a hormonal rush of doomed amours is all over Pfaff’s document of a road trip he made in 1998 from Toronto to New Orleans then back north to New York. He did all this with a woman called Alex, a muse who lingers still in this ever expanding homage to her that was first captured in a book curated, as with the exhibition, by another woman, Francesca Seravalle.

Laid out alongside a whole pile of scrap-books, Pfaff’s prodigal’s return is both a purging and a taking stock, a not so secret diary of fleeting moments which are captured, contained, immortalised and fictionalised as a visual poem and possibly unreliable memoir of times past. Look, there’s Alex, shy and gamine in black and white, hands up to the camera or else hiding her giggling face. And see, there’s Alex at the wheel in colour, holding a cigarette and wearing shades. Now look over there, it’s Alex again, posing with a gun and looking invincible in an image scaled up to become a monumental pin-up.

Like studied reimaginings of On the Road, A Bout de Souffle and Bonnie and Clyde, Alex & Me is a rom-com, a tragedy and a runaway romance seen through one man’s rose-tinted Raybans. It’s the beginning and end of a beautiful adventure every would-be beatnik wants to have, wild at heart and weird on top. All of which makes you wonder what Alex is doing now, why isn’t she here, and what’s her story anyway? 

The List, April 2018


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