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Feature: Liam Gillick's The Rak Yoshida - A Novel

Updated: Nov 24, 2020

By Liam Gillick

More Publishers asked me if I would consider producing a new print every day during the first few months of the Corona Virus lockdown. I responded by starting to write a novel - one page per day. The Rak Yoshida is a haunted story that takes place in Tokyo between the end of January and second week of February 2020. It is also a story of self loathing and lack of discovery that takes place across time and rapidly shifting locations around the city. The protagonist’s nickname is Rak. Random acts of kindness. Random act of killing. The Rak Yoshida is caught permanently between conflicting states - never managing to engage fully in either one. Endlessly torn between identities.

Throughout my work there is a history of long form writing being the basis for later work that spins off from the narrative. This is no exception. While it is not a reflection upon an existing work this is a section from an as yet unpublished text that gives a good indication of the thought processes and contextual figuration that underpins later exhibition making. Here is chapter 2.


Chapter 2

“Abata mo ekubo.”

“Even pockmarks are dimples.”

Japanese Proverb


2-9-7 Kabukicho,

Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo

25th January, 03:45

Shin-taishin is the name for the construction method amendments introduced in 1981. There are three types of earthquake-resistant shin-taishin construction methods. Taishin - the basic earthquake resistance required by law. Beams, pillars and walls are thicker to provide more strength against earthquakes. Because there is no dampening system, the building structure takes the brute force of the earthquake. Shaking feels more violent to occupants of the building. It is easier for damage to be caused to walls and furniture inside an apartment. The higher the floor, the higher the degree of shaking. Repeated earthquakes may eventually lead to serious damage. After a large earthquake (magnitude 7 or above), the building may require large scale repairs or additional reinforcing. There is also a risk that the damage may not be repairable. This method is suitable for low-rise buildings.

The E type rooms were easier on the eye. Reflective silvered panels running across the walls were decorated with small rectangular blocks that tessellated into a geometric pattern. Above and below each silvered frieze was a padded section with ornate yet consistent floral repeats in silver thread onto black suedette.

There was a tree that never blosommed in the forest. Although it was full of life, its branches never had any flowers at all. For that reason, it looked lanky and dry, as if it were dead. It wasn’t, though. It just seemed like it wasn’t destined to blossom.

Seishin - vibration control. This is optional and not required by the law, but is recommend for high-rise buildings. Dampers absorb some of the energy of the earthquake and reduce the shaking by some degree. This is more expensive than the regular method but less expensive than menshin (base isolation).

The platform bed had a caramel colored wooden base with a box section bolted securely to the floor. Right next to the bed - with the demeanour of a cubed robotic bear with no arms was a massage chair with a loose velvet cover. One of the chairs that would also grab your calves and squeeze you into remission from whatever your addiction.

The tree was very lonely. The animals that were there wouldn’t go near it for fear of catching its strange evil. Grass wouldn’t grow around it either for the same reason. Its only company was loneliness. The legend of Sakura tells that a fairy was moved when she saw how old the tree looked, despite the fact that it was young.

Menshin - base isolation system. This is optional and not required by the law. It is the most expensive method but is also considered to be the safest. The building structure is isolated from the ground. The result is a reduction in the force of the shaking - it is much slower and gentler, but may result in a feeling of seasickness. This construction method is often used in skyscrapers and high-rise apartments.

A sofa of sticky looking brown vinyl and short throw for the thighs had solid arms of a darker yet equally adhesive finish. The sofa was adorned with two square pillows of silver and black tiger skin pattern.

One night, the fairy appeared next to the tree and, with kind words, let it know she wanted to see it look beautiful and radiant. She was willing to help it. Thus, she’d use her powers to cast a spell that would last 20 years. During that time, the tree would be able to feel what human hearts feel. Maybe that way it would be happy and feel ready to blossom once again.

Bliss Beige Jingumae is constructed in this way. The entire building is on a base which is not attached to the surrounding blocks of land. This meant they could use very decorative and delicate hanchiku plasterwork in the lobby which can rarely be used in such applications.

The bathroom was the best. Not too complex - simple and clean. Definitely not worthy of mockery on a yucking website from the West. Just a bathroom with an extremely sanitary bath. A flat screen television set into the wall and adjustable LED lighting. It was always left on a dark blue setting for arrival. It was always left on at all time. There was no off switch. There was to be no darkness in this room.

The fairy told the tree that, thanks to the spell, it could turn into both a plant and a human being whenever it wanted. However, if it wasn’t able to recover its vitality and brightness after those 20 years, it would die immediately.

A few of the rooms were more expensive. What did they have to show for that? Showers in the corner. Showers - with either plate glass doors or hidden behind bricks of glass. And increasingly large televisions. When they had first arrived their names were mangled and inverted while music on the speakers spa-ed out a continual repetitive jingle of enforced relaxation.

When the girl asked for its name, the tree said Yohiro. They became very close friends. They’d meet to talk, sing, and read poems and amazing stories on a regular basis. The more the tree got to know Sakura, the more it wanted to be by her side. Every day it would count the minutes just to be with her again.

No idea how long they had been in this bath. The water was cold. Not possible to move. There must be a way to move.

About six hours ago in modern Japan. This is the time. No one fights but someone always dies. Nothing is swamped in sadness and desolation - there is no time for that. There are constant moments of peace fractured by endless distraction. A new impulse would start right after another one ended.

There must be a way. This water? Viscous water.

In spite of all this, there was a beautiful nightmare that even distraction not evade. It was full of toxic aromas, delicate perfumes and it intoxicates the fragmented inhabitants of modern Japan. No matter how much distraction there is, no one can avoid inhaling the heady scent.

I must stay awake. I cannot slip lower. A muddy cold. That sticks.

There must be a hole in the nightmare where fear never blossoms. A hole that was clear and complete but emitted no light and carried no narrative. The hole is barely perceptible in the endless black of the nightmare. But it was there. Impossible to define. Impossible to reach.

Why can’t I feel my feet? It’s the cold. The sticky, muddy cold that sticks and holds in this blue bathroom.

The blue lighting accelerates loss. A blue that pulses barely perceptible. How can I not move.

More time passed and the 20 years were about to be up. Yohiro, who went back to being a tree, kept feeling sadder as each day passed.

One afternoon, when it least expected it, Sakura showed up beside it. She hugged the tree and told it that she felt the same way. She didn’t want it to die. At that moment, the fairy appeared and proceeded to ask Sakura if she wanted Yohiro to remain human or if she wanted to merge with Yohiro in tree form.

Get this out of my head. It must be possible. The hold. In the hold of this.

The feet are flexible structures of bones, joints, muscles, and soft tissues that let us stand upright and perform activities like walking, running, and jumping.

The feet. My feet. My feet.

A human foot weighs, on average, 1.38kg. The average weight for a man is 1.43kg and the average weight for a woman is 1.33kg. In a man, one of their feet is 1.37% of their body weight. For a woman a foot comprises 1.29% of their body weight - leaving an average of 1.33%.

Two feet. Well. It is easy to do the math.

It is the responsibility of each ward office, city office, town and village office to arrange garbage collection. All of this is overseen by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Bureau of the Environment. There are strict regulations for the disposal of trash.

In Tokyo, trash, which we call gomi, has to be divided into three categories. Combustible trash, non-combustible trash, and recyclable trash for proper disposal. Each category is collected separately on a designated day.

Some communities may differentiate combustible and noncombustible garbage - kanen gomi and funen gomi by calling them moeru gomi and moenai gomi, moyasu gomi and moyasanai gomi or moyaseru gomi and moyasenai gomi.

Combustible trash or moeru gomi includes kitchen garbage, paper and wood. Non-combustible trash is glass, chinaware and metals. Recyclables or shigen gomi are exactly what you imagine they might be. Bottles, cans, PET plastic bottles and newspapers.

To dispose of your trash, you are required to use trash bags designated by your local authority. Take your trash to a designated pickup point on the morning of the scheduled collection day. Trash in the wrong bag may not be picked up. And this is where problems can begin.

It was early on the morning of January 26th. The local trash in Shinjuku City, Tokyo is collected in a fleet of small blue Izuzu garbage trucks. By five in the morning they normally drive down Kuyakusho-dori, past the Diamond Building, take a right turn at the Trafugutei Fugu restaurant and double back towards Hotel Forsion. Two men - and it’s pretty much always men - follow the truck as it stops and starts along Kuyakusho-dori. Hardly missing a beat as they toss the appropriately color-coded bags into the back. The trucks are not particularly noisy and the rear opening is low enough to cause back pains in some of the workers until they develop a good technique. It is unacceptable to stuff great big bags full of waste. This is not Europe or the United States with its monster black garbage bags. Generally here the plastic bags are translucent and small, allowing the workers to pick up three or four at a time.

The small Isuzu turned right and then right again. It stopped briefly outside Hotel Orion on the right and picked up garbage from the rear of Hotel Atlas - adults only - on the left. The workers on this particular route know it well and move smoothly from one pile of pastel bags to another - dropping the appropriately colored ones into the back of their truck and leaving others for the recycling truck that would be along later in the morning. The grey light of the morning erased the shadows. Everything was evenly lit. Hotel Urban Stage with its shiny granite exterior on the right and International Hotel Kabukicho on the left. Hotel Stellate on the right - with its bold monochrome interiors and dream house rooms.

Just opposite Hotel Forsion stood Hotel Pasha. It was here that the anomaly was found. Tanaka, one of the oldest workers on the job was squinting at the excessively layered facade of Pasha. It was not possible to see the curl of his lip behind the standard face-mask worn by all trash collectors. This was one of the ugliest hotels in the street. But something about it always made him stop for a second and break the rhythm of collection.

It was the mishmash of oriental styling drawing on imaginary memories and fabricated countries that always caught him out. There was no stability in the design of the facade. It was as if the building had been drunk while trying to put on its make up in the dark with one hand wrapped in bandages. Tanaka knew the complication of the facade was only heightened by the reflected, illuminated, gilded, varnished, laminated rooms inside. Each one could be sponged down - or even hosed down if necessary - while never losing that little touch of class that shows its best side when lit up by rows of twinkling purple LEDs.

He bent back down to grab a clump of bags with his white gloved left hand when something caught his eye. He could sense his colleague Nakamura’s growing impatience and heard the high revving Izuzu engine fizz and buzz as a signal to move along. It was nothing. Just a glint of first clear sunlight bouncing off the facade. He hoisted the bags but missed his swing as the truck swiftly moved ahead a few metres. Tanaka cursed as the bags in his hand were launched into the air and sailed past the rear of the truck and across the street right into the glass panelled rate board standing low outside Hotel Forsion.

Something in the bags was heavy and solid. In fact something in the bags weighed approximately 2.76kg. And as Tanaka walked across to recover the sacks he saw precisely what could NOT be felt in the glutinous mess of the bathtub upstairs. This gomi was neither kanen or funen. In fact it looked like two feet. Cartoonish in a pair of expensive looking shoes. High quality. Perfect finish. Marvellous hand stitching. Tanaka coughed and vomited half digested ramen noodles all over the cleanly butchered ankles. This surprised him.


Liam Gillick is an artist based in New York. His work exposes the dysfunctional aspects of a modernist legacy in terms of abstraction and architecture when framed within a globalized, neo-liberal consensus, and extends into structural rethinking of the exhibition as a form. He has produced a number of short films since the late 2000s which address the construction of the creative persona in light of the enduring mutability of the contemporary artist as a cultural figure.

In Our Own Words is an ongoing feature where artists and writers are asked to speak about their new work, ideas or projects in their own words. It is also part of invert/extant Transmissions for the Artist Writings series. If you would like to be kept up to date on this or other projects, please sign up for our newsletter.


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