Words by Ken Leslie
Benjamin Tupas deals with concepts of history and memory using his highly developed skillset as a media production expert. Instead of brushstrokes, mark making, and trace, he uses cropping, framing, focus and edit to build complex and subtle images. Using photographic reference material, Tupas has created a series of stark, minimal, circular images; drawing the viewer into a black void with flashes of colour and abstracted textures. Tight cropping and zooming have transformed readymade textures into these abstracted forms, unfamiliar to all but the artist himself; a visual reminiscence of the way memory works for all of us, the past reduced to a precious recollection of a colour, a smell, or the touch of a familiar hand.
Tupas speaks of his own work in matter-of- fact, objective terms; knowledge collected versus knowledge lost, evidence, even the idea of presenting the work as a form of data visualisation comes across as a way of holding the work’s content at an arm’s length, to analyse and process complex information. Maybe this is a result of a practice built on the skills of examining others’ lives and presenting them in concise, neatly packaged, edited and refined format. But strangely, when Tupas turns the lens on himself, this same methodology exposes a deeply personal and warm exploration of self and family. Nothing objective, 100% subjective.
We, the viewers, have the rare privilege of witnessing an artist’s articulation of a personal history. Tupas’s urge to connect with his Filipino roots means he has engaged with the past through conversations with relatives and through the collection of family photographs. His lineage is experienced and mediated through the eyes of his relatives and the viewfinders of their cameras. The hard-edged, circular images Tupas has created read clearly as references to these two ideas; eyes and the reference ring which can be seen through the viewfinder of vintage cameras. There’s also a conceptual cross-over with the way in which Tupas refers to his work as a form of data visualisation.
Aurora and Arceo (2018), the image which reads most like an eye, has a narrow pupil like that of someone who is concentrated and closely studying a new topic, gathering as much information as possible. It’s also the image which represents the family connection with which the artist has the most clarity and information by showing a broader ring of a photographic image. This unblinking eye stares into the past, but also projects its gaze into the gallery space, proudly proclaiming the depth of knowledge it holds.
Conversely, at the other end of this knowledge spectrum is an image which probes outwardly. Adela and Micario (2018) feels like looking through a camera’s viewfinder. The narrow ring of colour on a stark black field seems to be helping to frame an unknown subject outside of the exhibition space; to bring lost history closer and into clear focus. Tupas is telling us that he is searching for more information, that he quite literally has an abstracted understanding of this portion of his family’s history, and that at the moment he is in the dark.
Somewhere in between these two images is Julia and Julio (2018). In a state of flux, at neither end of the spectrum. This image shows movement and growth, slowly transforming from novice to expert. And it’s also the most human of the images. It reflects the process of discovery the artist is currently going through. Tupas can’t escape himself; the tools, language and imagery of media production have become his perfect metaphor. He is the eye witness, he is the documentary camera, and he is the unknown space in between searching for an identity.
Combined, this exhibition becomes a self-portrait, and in it we can see the warmth and love Benjamin Tupas has for his cultural identity, and his yearning to capture his existence for future generations.