In English, the phrase ‘second sight’ is used to describe a form of extra-sensory vision, often the ability to see things occurring far away in time or space. Whilst heightened perception of the other senses is praised as a gift, second sight is more of a mixed blessing; On top of the weirdness of an alternative revelation, there is the alienation of this experience, cut off from a shared understanding of the world we believe to lie before our eyes.
Ryu Ika’s book The Second Seeing oscillates between these perspectives, careening between worlds near and far until the distinction collapses under the weight of her images. These are heavy pictures, larded with layers; photographs with windows onto other photographs, photographs smashed to pixels and digitally engineered back together, photographs that have been crumpled and folded and collaged and sculpturally reconstituted before reappearing, transformed by their final flattening into something else entirely all over again.
The closest I’ve come to navigating this kind of dense image landscape before is in anime, in which layers of experience we usually try to keep separate – dreams, hallucinations, supernatural interventions, our so-called ‘real lives’ – can bleed together, integrated within a single representation of reality. However, the world that shines through in Ryu Ika’s photography is much stranger than any such pure fiction. It possesses all the banality and stickiness of the ostensibly everyday, but none of the codes we use to make sense of this environment. Her world is so close, and yet all the more distant for its approximation to familiarity.
The world that shines through in Ryu Ika’s photography is much stranger than any pure fiction. It possesses all the banality and stickiness of the ostensibly everyday, but none of the codes we use to make sense of this environment.
The photographs may have been shot across Egypt, Japan, Paris and Inner Mongolia, but the book’s constant setting is the uncanny valley, a plane that lies just the wrong side of our ability to rationally contain its images and put them aside. Ryu Ika’s defamiliarised landscapes overflow such frameworks, dramatised with the illegible intensity of a dream. Our eyes gravitate to the details that might act as keys to understanding this strange place – car number plates, the facial features of a police squad – only to encounter their absence, bleached out in a flash that strips away visual information rather illuminating it. Close-cropped portraits are blown up to the point of grainy alienation. In these pictures, bigger and brighter does not necessarily equate to bringing subjects any closer.
There are uneasy interchanges of artificial and natural matter, each representation taking us further away from being able to tell ‘real’ from ‘fake.’ A crust of blood coagulating over fingertips is rendered as flatly red and disassociated as the lipstick it sits beneath. Plastic mannequins, faces on surveillance screens, and distorted installations of paper portraits feel no less authentic or more nightmarish than other seemingly low intervention subjects. A livid hand meets a severed trotter, whilst a plastic hose gushes torrents of milk, in this theatre of association that recognises no bounds between the parts of reality we feel able to work with and the elements Ryu Ika won’t exorcise for us.
This book resonates with the weight that images have assumed through their cumulative heft in our lives. The same weight that makes your computer hum and stutter when you run too many tabs, the weight that overflows your phone’s memory and eventually kills it, the weight that wears you out when you scroll too hard and the images start crashing together like a foreign-language action trailer. The weight of these pictures takes on a kind of dimensionality all of its own, rejecting time and space in favour of a warp depth stretching all the way beyond the pages.