Relative Nothing

La Trobe University Visual Arts Centre

May 27 – July 5, 2015

Relative Nothing–The title is a play on the existential maxim, “Everything is relative, nothing is absolute.” By foregoing the comma and merging the terms, Buenconsejo’s representation of an otherwise vacant subject draws closer to the orthodox Judaic teaching, in which “relative nothing” refers to the opposite of the absolute something – “relative nothing”, in this case, being everything that came before God. “Relative Nothing” being the individual wisdom that leads to the idea of creation.

Individual wisdom in this sense is the key to understanding why Charles Buenconsejo would choose to make work out of putting himself and his daily routine on camera. Not only does this continue a legacy of using surveillance in conceptual art, which any art historian can connect to the early video works of Dan Flavin, Bill Viola, and Bruce Nauman. Like any work in video, Buenconsejo’s work proposes a case and a context for the use of novel technologies in art production. Like any work in video, he requires the viewer to occupy the space in which the work is installed, in effect, taking part in–as well as becoming a part of–the projected images.

While he tests the limits of new technologies in the same way that Viola and co. were experimenting in the 1960s, Buenconsejo naturally situates his inquiries closer to the experiences of his own generation. Becoming a part of the projected image in Relative Nothing is not a matter of performance, but of critique, and this is where Buenconsejo departs from canonical references. He turns instead to the impossibility of conceiving of a world in which one is not being constantly observed; but rather than tackle the concept from an Orwellian perspective, Buenconsejo’s narrative of Big Brother watching is told by repeatedly turning the camera on himself, turning into the stranger territories of the 21st century, where the most ubiquitous images are not broadcasted from corporate studios, but are produced by the same people who consume them. Everybody is an autobiographer, only instead of words on paper, we have endless streams of pixelated data. It means something else to write the script of one’s existence now that “script” can refer to the code that translates one’s “real life” into the flattened versions we get onscreen.

Six weeks living on his own, as an artist-in-residence the Visual Arts Center of La Trobe University in Melbourne, had Buenconsejo turning inward on several levels. Literal and figurative expressions of these moments of self-reflection can be seen in works such as The Idea of the Idea is Nothingness and Walking Towards the End of Something, where footage of the artist’s face keep a steady pace, racing stripes across a dull-colored screen. This is not only Charles Buenconsejo’s daily life, aestheticized for the sake of showing his viewers what a GoPro can do when mounted on one’s own head, this is the #selfie generation’s collective brain on technology.

“Magsawa kayo sa mukha ko.” This is how he jokingly describes the reactions he expects to get from this exhibition. In these images, one face thinly veils another, one day cuts into the next, images form strips and layers, interweaving as warp and weft – the fabric of Buenconsejo’s existence rendered in seemingly infinite loops on screen, a case in which light conveys everything and nothing. Earlier work points to his fascination with the narrative of the universe having first been written in light, “Let there be light” being the opening of the Book of Genesis. The romantic notion that we are all stardust helmed two of his first solo exhibitions, Reality is a Hologram (2012) and Destination Unknown (2013)–both of which won the Ateneo Art Awards in their respective years.

Looking at these new works, Buenconsejo is not only jokingly pushing his viewers towards getting sick of his face: he also asks how it is possible that we are not yet sick of ourselves. How many images have been captured, edited, and uploaded in the past year alone? This is the subject of an ongoing experiment at Goldsmiths, where the internet continues to be printed on paper, rendering data from one measure of materiality to another. Of this, Buenconsejo asks: How many of these images captured are of the self?

More importantly, what are the implications for Art History now that visual culture is produced collectively, or crowdsourced to use a more current term? Not only are today’s images sourced from the same people meant to view them, they are also of the audience itself. These handheld devices, most ubiquitous in the city Buenconsejo now calls home, which was recently declared the “selfie capital” of the world, connect us not only to each other, they are reflections of ourselves. In their gleaming surfaces–both a portal and a void–we see our own faces staring back.

Theorists from Donna Haraway to W.J.T. Mitchell have written of the cyborg in modern culture, describing how the human will be irrevocably changed by electronification and digitization.  The contents of our lives shown online–the pictures of our food and the places we visit, endlessly streaming through screens that extend from our hands–make earlier depictions of the “cyborg” or cybernetic body in popular culture look so naive, misguided even. Instead of the Terminator or Lawnmower Man, we have Kim Kardashian publishing Selfish (2015).

Rather than dwell on the difference between something and nothing, the existential questions  Buenconsejo depicts are of the workings of a mind distorted by the ubiquity of the handheld digital device. Relative Nothing exhibits how one’s view of the world always, always involves watching oneself moving through it. This is not just a phenomenon, this is part of us. Pictures or it didn’t happen.

Gallery Installation View

Gallery Installation View

 The Idea of the Idea is Nothingness, 8mins 49sec looped video.

We keep on solving problems, but we keep on making the same mistakes, 8mins looped video.

A-Z, 1min 32sec looped video

A-Z Compressed, 2mins 38 sec looped video.

The More We Create Images, The More We Create Paradoxes, 17min 57secs looped video.

The Idea of the Mirror, 2mins 11 sec looped video.