Stretching into infinity: A photographer’s personal universe

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Charles Buenconsejo's video installation "Layers Upon Layers of Time." Photo courtesy of ARTINFORMAL

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — In his latest solo exhibit, rather protractedly titled “Name, Kind, Application, Date Last Opened, Date Added, Date Modified, Date Created, Size, Tags,” the photographer Charles Buenconsejo attempts to make sense of the deluge of images that we confront every day. Occupying all three exhibit spaces in Artinformal, Buenconsejo’s exhibit deconstructs his process in creating (or preserving) an image — his life laid bare.

The starting point of the display, which is named after the file categories on a computer, seems to be Buenconsejo’s exploration of time and the image — or the idea of it — and, perhaps, his own history as well. Buenconsejo started taking photographs sometime around 2002 or 2003, his interest in it stemming from his personal disappointment in painting, which he took up in the University of the Philippines Cebu. Trained on the technical side of photography by his father, who is a commercial photographer, he started doing his own commercial work about four years later.

CharlesBuenconsejo_By JL Javier.jpg Charles Buenconsejo. Photo by JL JAVIER  

In “Name, Kind, etc.,” Buenconsejo approaches the image itself as the universe, or at least a knowable part of it. In one of his static pieces, “The Image is the Universe,” he collects screen captures of Google searches for things as mundane as “red car” or pseudo-aphorisms like “time is money is time,” and puts them all together as a quilt of minuscule thumbnails on a sheet of paper 10 feet long, not quite big enough to express the expanse of the universe. “Walang tigil,” he says of it. “Infinite.”

Even as he attempts to catalog and make sense of all the information that he has — a lot of his footage consists of the collected documentation of his everyday life — he knows that this is only a small part of a much bigger picture. In his attempts, there is a clear recognition that to grasp infinity is impossible, but still he tries. “This is my ‘channel,’ and you have your own,” he says. He calls the image or the screen another window to peek through.

CharlesBuenconsejo_The-Image-is-the-Universe.jpg "The Image is the Universe" is made up of thumbnails of Google searches. Photo courtesy of ARTINFORMAL  

Looking at “2003 – 2016,” a collection of photographs printed on an even larger sheet, the viewer sees a condensed summary of these years in his life. He explains that some images have been deleted, by accident as well as by design. “It’s probably inevitable,” he says, mentioning the idea of “dematerialization,” something that came up in conversation with the artist Nilo Ilarde, who had been helping him with the exhibit space. “Kahit wala na ‘yung [image], nandoon pa rin ‘yung idea,” Buenconsejo says. “Hindi mawawala ‘yun kahit na lahat naman siguro nag-fi-fade.”

Amid the large-scale rolls that essentially make up his own personal history of images and its deconstructed metadata, Buenconsejo asks, “What is the closest device that can capture everything?” At the suggestion of the human eye, he replies, “Yes,” and adds, ”But even then, it’s limited.” He points at a specific image in “2003 – 2016,” one where there are people at a beach. “Nandiyan ako in that moment, pero hindi pa rin ‘yan complete.”

CharlesBuenconsejo_Being-and-Time_installation.jpg "Being and Time" by Charles Buenconsejo. Photo courtesy of ARTINFORMAL  

Then, he looks around the space, peering at every corner, and says, “Siguro infinite ‘yung images na magagawa mo dito.” He makes his own crop frame with his fingers and gestures around the room. “Pwede ‘yung shoes niya” — an image. “O ‘yung wall” — another image. “O si Noah,” referring to a dog — and another. “Iba siguro ‘yung magagawa mong art kung may mata ka sa likod.”

While the representation of his images is a more linear affair, it is in his videos that Buenconsejo fixates on repetition, how things are never exactly the same, despite similarities of the circumstance.

Charles-Buenconsejo_Existence-is-one-at-a-time-Moment_20-minutes_video_2016.jpg In Buenconsejo's "Existence is One at a Time Moment," 25 clips play simultaneously on one screen, depicting small scenes in his everyday life with his wife, Grace. Photo courtesy of ARTINFORMAL  

In “Existence is One at a Time Moment,” 25 clips play simultaneously on one screen, depicting small scenes in his everyday life with his wife, Grace. There are images of him cooking, stretching to prepare for a run, cleaning his camera equipment, surveying his own home, and entertaining guests. “Sino ba nasa harap ko palagi?” he muses. “Si Grace talaga, eh.”

In “Everything is Moving Towards the Same Direction,” he explores the idea of gravity, with a top view of his feet on several journeys down a stairwell from the 36th floor, all the screens layered over one another. In another piece, he presents identical setups of videos he watches, playing simultaneously and drowning in a cacophony of noise, each one eventually dying down as each original video ends.

Charles-Buenconsejo_Everything-is-Moving-Towards-the-Same-Direction-(Edition-of-3)_8-minutes-and-50-seconds_video_2016.jpg The video installation "Everything is Moving Towards the Same Direction" captures a top view of Buenconsejo's feet on several journeys down a stairwell from the 36th floor, all the screens layered over one another. Photo courtesy of ARTINFORMAL  

Buenconsejo recalls something he learned from the conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp, that painting — or art — is a thing to do. “Kailangan mo lang gawin.” To know the universe is like reaching for infinity: an impossibility, a futile exercise. But perhaps to know parts of what seems unknowable is enough.

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“Name, Kind, Application, Date Last Opened, Date Added, Date Modified, Date Created, Size, Tags” is on display from April 21 to May 21, 2016, at the main gallery of Artinformal, located at 277 Connecticut Street, Greenhills East, Mandaluyong City.