The project The Mechanism of Meaning began in 1963, a year after Arakawa met Madeline Gins for the first time. They saw the work as an open-ended process of research and invention, which as they suggested was: “maybe the first rudimentary compendium of the capabilities (or innate functions) of the mind… …a unique and provocative foray into an uncharted region where art, experience and thought filtered through experience, began to define each other.” Arakawa and Madeline Gins considered The Mechanism of Meaning as the foundation for their philosophy of ‘procedural architecture’ and the buildings they designed and built.
Comprised primarily of acrylic and mixed media on canvas, the panels, each measuring 90 x 66 inches, are organized by chapters with titles like: Neutralization of Subjectivity, Presentation of Ambiguous Zones and Texture of Meaning. Each panel offers a visual puzzle that combines text, images and everyday objects to engage the mind in a meditation of meaning and comprehension. In their introduction to The Mechanism of Meaning, Work in Progress (1963-71, 1978), Based on a method of Arakawa, 1979, they write “we hope future generations find our humor useful for the models of thought and other escape routes they shall construct.” The work was exhibited both in groups and its entirety. There are two editions of the project: the first dated 1963-71, 1978, 1996; and the second dated 1988 in the collection of the Sezon Museum of Modern Art, Karuizawa, Japan.
The completed first edition comprises 80 panels along with a table of contents and a two panel digital rendering of City without Graveyards (Reversible Destiny). The second edition comprises 81 panels along with a table of contents, 52 pencil drawings on paper, an architectural model and a photograph.
Four publications track the first edition’s development: Mechanismus der Bedeutung (Werk im Entstehen: 1963-1971), published by Verlag F. Bruckmann KG. Munich, 1971; The Mechanism of Meaning, Work in Progress (1963-71, 1978), Based on a method of Arakawa, published by Harry N. Abrams, New York 1979; The Mechanism of Meaning, published by Abbeville Press 1988 and the final version that appears in Reversible Destiny - Arakawa/Gins, published by the Guggenheim Museum Soho, New York 1997.