Laven on Recagis

Estimable Australian art historian D H Laven has responded to a post from earlier in the week. He has, as per usual, eshewed the comments box in favour of a letter, which requires me (I fancy) to offer a brief description pertaining to colour, shape and style of handwriting found therein. Here follows said description:

The envelope and paper enclosed are both coloured pale yellow. The envelope is the size known as A6; the paper A5 and folded once across the middle. Laven’s handwriting is, as ever, taut and muscular, except when using the letters, ‘g’, ‘j’ and ‘y’, where it resembles that of a smart primary school girl.

Now, without further ado, I present the content of the letter:

Georgy, allow me – if you will – to respond to a handful of points raised by your short comment entitled ‘Torches, Torches’, in which you offer up a small and somewhat confusing comparison of Luis Recagis and Kohei Yoshiyuki.

Let me start by saying that the main point is not one with which I would disagree. In fact, I must say that am rather relieved to see you make it. Why did my article on Recagis fail to mention Yoshiyuki – or, indeed, any other artist associated, in any way, with the exhibition of artworks in a dark room? It was an oversight, certainly, albeit a deliberate one. Which leads me neatly onto my own main point.

By comparing Recagis’ 1973 exhibition with Yoshiyuki’s 1971 exhibition, one gives the impression that the two artists were aiming at a similar experience. You intimate that Recagis may have ‘copied’ Yoshiyuki. Whilst I would not go so far as to deny the possibility of Recagis having been aware of Yoshiyuki’s work, it is clear that there is something much more complicated than sheer replication going on here.

Let’s look a little more closely at the two exhibitions. Yoshiyuki’s show, held in Japan, consisted of infra-red photographs taken at night, featuring a range of procreating couples. The exhibition was clearly an exploration, if not a celebration, of sexual voyeurism.

Recagis’ exhibition employed the same tactic – allowing torch-holding visitors into a dark room – but with very different intentions. Recagis, a painter, worked by torchlight: as such he believed this the most appropriate way to exhibit his pieces. The works in question are mostly portraits of the artist’s head – and are in no sense scandalous. Though the issue of ‘voyeurism’ is of course raised by the method of exhibition (as it almost always is), Recagis had no intention of foregrounding it. His major, if not single aim was to recreate the conditions of artistic creation.

There can be no doubt that Recagis’ and Yoshiyuki’s exhibition shared a common bond, nor should we deny their palpable differences. On the same, curious, foundation they built two unique structures. To suggest, even, that Recagis was aping Yoshiyuki would be, I think, a judgment of the crudest sort.

Yours most faithfully,

D H Laven

P.S. Why don’t you ring me anymore?

(for more, see ‘”Light’s Out”: ‘The Unfortunate Art of Luis Recagis’, by D H Laven)

Man of Titles

A lot has been made, on this very blog, of writer Boris Yashmilye’s approach to titling works (see here, for example). Simply put: Yashmilye is a fairly prolific novelist, but an even more prolific titler. One of his novels, The Musala Affair, had at one point forty-one alternative titles. Others suffered less; though his new book currently has two possible names (if not, according to circulating rumours, several more).

Amongst the many questions this raises is: ‘what does he do with the spares?’ As previously hinted, the answer is that these are very much ‘up for grabs’. If you wish to pick up a title discarded by Yashmilye, you are well within your rights. Should he choose, therefore, not to call his next novel, The Fallopian Embassy of Architecture, you are most welcome to step up to the plate and make it your own. In fact, I entreat (even implore) you to do just this. For my sake…

Torches, Torches

‘Curators would have liked to show Kohei Yoshiyuki’s 1971 series, ‘The Park’, as it was originally shown in Japan: in a dark room with visitors having to use torches‘ (from a Guardian review of a Tate Modern exhibition)

One thinks, of course, of the Spanish painter, Luis Recagis, whose 1973 show ‘Lights Out’ employed similar (i.e. pretty much the same) methods. I note, however, that art historian D H Laven (whose wonderful article on Recagis can be found here) makes no mention of Recagis’ debt to Yoshiyuki – can we presume that it was, therefore, a coincidence? Recagis’ first ‘torch-light’ painting was made, we are told, in 1971. Before or after ‘The Park’? Who can say…

What’s interesting about Recagis’ 1973 exhibition, however, is the way it was denounced, not on the basis of content, but on the basis that the artist happened to have made derogatory comments about his fellow countryman Picasso on the eve of his death. This led, Laven argues, to Recagis’ cruel omission from all histories of art. One continues to wonder whether his ‘similarity’ to Yoshiyuki might have added another apple to the swiftly collapsing cart.


Young American novelist Jonathan Safran-Foer recently took a break from writing ruthlessly well-written novels to fire off a polemic against the production and distribution of meat in these our so-called modern times. The book is called Eating Animals – and you can buy it just about anywhere.

One is reminded, inevitably, of the Dutch author Martine der Lardon’s decision in 2003 to follow two best-selling fantasy novels with a lengthy exposé of the shampoo industry. This book was called Hair Today: A History of Shampoo – and is much less readily available (for reasons beyond my control).

Truth be told, I remember reading der Lardon’s work when it first came out, but I can recall little of its content. The first line, however, I will never forget. ‘Sham, poo: an apposite  name if I ever heard one‘ was how it ran. The rest of the book, you might say, writes itself.

Bits and Pieces

– Boris Yashmilye says his next novel will be called either The Fallopian Embassy of Architecture or Equilibrium of the Masses. His publishers say the title is ‘yet to be confirmed’.

– Charles (‘Roc’) Quarrét, author of Hewn, has made yet another attempt to ‘distill the world into words’. It’s called Cathedral of Bones and will be published in July. Quarrét intends publicise the novel by climbing the large glass pyramid at the Louvre dressed only in a tiger skin.

– Pyetr Turgidovsky is locked in a dispute with his local village over a piece of land he claims the ‘devil gave to him in exchange for the souls of four hundred crows’. I think you’ll agree that this can only end in tears, blood, sweat, saliva and/or skunk juice.

– I am feeling quite well, thank you (better, in any case, than last week)

Divine Right

‘Divine right is alive and well, in all walks of life. Some people believe they have a divine right to be earning a certain amount per annum; others a divine right to trample over those of “lesser intelligence” than themselves. Others, even, feel they have a divine right to be trampled on. Still, the vast majority of us experience no such thing as a divine right. We wait, instead, for that fateful day on which we will be “uncovered”; revealed for “what we truly are”; the facades ripped down and the aching, crumbling structure laid sadly bare. I met a monarch once who, despite his exalted position, lived in perpetual anxiety that it would dawn one day on his people that he was, in essence, an utter twerp. I could empathize. Oh lord, how I could empathize!’ (Leo Barnard, Who Aren’t You?)

Bad Dream Fodder

‘I hate bad dreams. My writing life has consisted, largely, of channeling all possible bad dream fodder into my waking life, with the help of fiction. To put it simply: I write bad dreams in the day, so I don’t have to suffer them at night. This is, I have found, a largely satisfactory method. There may be violent crime in my books, but there are gambolling lambs in my dreams. But what, you ask, of my reader’s dreams? That, I would say, is none of my business.’ (Viktor Kesserman)