“These visual phenomena, although they don’t have any concrete existence, are of specific visual reality for me”, says the artist. Throughout the Reflections series, a body of works stretching over more than 14 years, the juxtaposition of spaces emphasizes their ephemeral quality and photography’s potential to subvert ordinary ways of seeing. Double reflections reveal to the viewer a tension of the visual field which transparencies tend to homogenize. “The once captured visual strangeness can’t continue, is ephemeral, because our way of seeing is accustomed to ignoring the strangeness and to recognizing only such images which fit into our context of meaning”, says Oshima. Since the majority of photographs are taken after identification, so that strangeness is completely excluded, the photographer wanted “to create an image exterior to our ordinary recognition and to present the strangeness of the image in its purity, that is, by reducing or over-fulfilling the conditions of recognition in order to prevent it from being recognized and categorized.”
Oshima breaks, juxtaposes and intercalates perspectives to blot out the requirements for recognition: “I think when the optical dependency on the perspectivistic perception of the distance between oneself and others is interrupted, the strangeness of the image will come to emerge. For instance, out focusing makes the distance unstable, and by treating an image as a layer, its perspective changes into a thin layer”, he says. “When the volume and perspective of an image is lost, it appears to us just as a mixture of light and shadow. I increase this condition of unrecognizable strangeness in order to explore a new relationship with other images, which will no longer be dependent on the context of meaning.” This montage of light, colour, and tactility which lie at the foundations of the photographic image fulfils yet another role – it erases our ordinary valuations, classifications, or integrations, and thus makes the viewer question all defined relations in order to see or to create the conditions for seeing new relationships with the world.
Unsurprisingly then, these artistic interventions within the normative visual field suspend our ordinary perception of space, the relations set between us and the different objects, and the visual epistemologies of today’s society. Since architecture and transparency shape, condition, and create dispositions and reflexes that define our social habits, their superposition inherently questions the political and epistemic visualization of architecture as explicit expression of political, aesthetic and technical norms. Photography unveils here the ephemeral, the trans-aesthetic and, in doing so, makes us aware of the political illusions raised by the promises of transparency, including the idea that political architecture would be accessible on a visual and epistemic level. Transparency is fundamentally technical and fundamentally political at the same time, a construction that contributes to consistent and efficient political opacity. Through his photographs, Naruki Oshima crosses the appearances of transparency and pierces the visual field to reveal the momentary, the unnoticed and thus subvert the images that architecture forms about itself, which are based mainly on the aesthetics of visibility. Whether a mirror or a transparent skin, the primary function of glass has become not to protect, but to disclose and expose its structure, being physically present yet visually absent. Much too often, architecture homogenizes, neutralizes differences, and domesticates seeing only to mask the anxieties of difference and the unrecognizable in our quotidian praxis and visual experiences.
A poetics of openness and disappearance is always at play within Naruki’s photographs. Whether one choses to see the glass walls in these photographs as ‘hermetical envelopes’, to use Richard Sennett’s expression in The Fall of Public Man, or layers superposing in the act of seeing, it is always a question of learning to see and experience distance and the ephemeral. The photographer does not seek to reflect reality, nor simply present it as such. Instead, he presents the viewer with an interpretation of distance that is constitutive of spaces through momentary ‘faults’ in fixing the view. The reflections do not present a real or reflected city, they do not seek to place urban elements in the mirror to make a statement on reality as an image devoid of depth. The viewer is not asked to reflect on the societal voyeurism or the transparencies of the material substance, but to meditate on the phenomenal character of distance as a quality of spatial organization that subtly influences our perception and our sense of meaning through intangible alterations.
Learning how to see is never enough though: he who only knows how to see will end by seeing badly, says Henri Lefebvre. One must also learn perceiving outside the immediateness of the image as the sole medial ground for the transfiguration of reality. The power of Naruki Oshima’s photographs lies in piercing through images that reinforce the visual epistemologies of society in order to reveal the irritations, mutations, and aberrations of vision. Ultimately, the photographer has successfully created a visual counter-field that unveils alternative mindsets of perception, dispositions for strangeness and the ephemeral as a radiant perceptive space.
Text by Sabin Bors, January 29, 2015