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Ambiguous Zones, 8

Dear Friends,

Ambiguous Zones 8 takes a close look at Non-gravitational Being, 1983-84, a large-scale painting by Arakawa. This artwork offers a short text on Arakawa and Gins’s concept of “Blank” and stands as a good introduction to the work being done by Arakawa in the early 1980s. A short formal analysis of the painting will leave you primed to meditate on the artist’s ideas about spacetime, energy-matter, and how gravity might work in different dimensions. Hopefully you will enjoy this brief contemplation on physics all the more knowing that scientists were wrong, luckily, in their prediction that asteroid 2009 JF1 would hit the Earth on May 6th, 2022!

Yours in the reversible destiny mode,
Reversible Destiny Foundation and ARAKAWA+GINS Tokyo Office

Arakawa, Non-Gravitational Being, 1983-1984, acrylic, graphite, art marker and PVA on canvas (in two parts), 100 x 136 in. Photo: Rob McKeever
Non-gravitational Being, 1983-84: A Meditation
by Amara Magloughlin
 
 

Arakawa’s painting, Non-gravitational Being, 1983-84, sets up the viewer to encounter a large-scale map covered with arrows pointing in different directions in a pattern reminiscent of air currents. The far-left side of the map appears to be incomplete, but is it unfinished? Has it been erased in some way? Perhaps the mapmaker was not able to fill the rest of the canvas out of ignorance of what should be there, or perhaps the area has yet to be charted. There are endless possibilities including the fact that they may have interrupted an event in mid-flow or that the painting is waiting to be activated by the viewer to finish its development, just as the viewer will in turn develop alongside or with the painting. At 100 x 136 inches, the size of the canvas overwhelms the viewer, perhaps making them feel dislocated rather than better able to find their way as a map ought to do. This immersive inarticulation serves to prolong the moment of proto-perception that interested Arakawa so much. In his own words, he wanted to paint “the condition that precedes the moment in which the imagination goes to work and produces mental representations.”¹ It is possible that this is represented on the canvas, but in this instance, Arakawa has worked to lengthen this effect in the viewer—both artwork and viewer need the other for activation.

The various elements in the painting appear to occupy parallel planes, of which I count at least five. The map is the furthest back on the fifth plane, which includes the yellowed varnished area. The fourth plane has text stenciled across it in a seemingly sporadic manner with equally sporadic splotches and drips of paint. This plane also contains a white circle faintly visible beneath the black line of the three-pronged symbol (which will be mentioned below) on the left panel, as well as text stenciled upside-down at the top of the canvas. The third plane is occupied by arrows circulating over these phrases. The second plane holds the black, yellow, and red lines that form a sort of axis and the dark grey sphere. To my eye, the curved line circumscribing the bottom of the canvas, the two bolder directional arrows that perhaps indicate movement in opposite directions along this line, and the rectilinear shapes that move off the top of the canvas seem to exist on the first plane closest to the viewer.

Arakawa, A Diagram of Imagination, 1965, acrylic, graphite, colored pencil, pastel, art markeron canvas, 61 x 91 in. Photo: Rob McKeever

It would be difficult to develop an interpretation for this painting without examining other works by Arakawa with similar motifs and more snippets of text, both of which serve to elucidate Arakawa’s philosophical thought. Arakawa’s earlier diagram paintings include examples of maps with labels indicating certain elements, like STREET or OCEAN, as seen in A Diagram of Imagination, 1965. In the early 1980s, instead of these labels we find maps with elevations of tourist attractions locating objects in space. This is simply a different kind of sign, and one that is instantly recognizable as belonging to a tourist map. The iconic shapes of these buildings are as recognizable as their written names to the local population. For an international audience, such elevations might be more useful in deciding whether they have reached the right spot. In any event, this two-dimensional representation of space includes a nod to the three-dimensional world with the spare elevations of monuments that speak to the national identity of the inhabitants of this city. Indeed, they are so recognizable that with close inspection the viewer may begin to be able to identify what they are looking at. The Cathédrale de Notre-Dame de Paris is particularly iconic in shape and given its position near the dark grey sphere, it might be one of the first buildings that the viewer notices. Moving along the Seine to the left, the Louvre and the Jardin des Tuileries become apparent. Below this, the Palais du Luxembourg and the Panthéon among others are also identifiable. Even though we now feel we are in Paris, the city itself is interchangeable for the meaning of the painting. Since we have not yet found the map that Arakawa used to make this painting, it is not clear if he changed the streets in any way. Tourist maps are notorious for simplifying the street map, narrowing their usefulness to locating highlighted landmarks and sometimes not even those.

The sentences stenciled across the top of the two panels read as follows: “ALONG THE WAY, WITHIN ENERGY-MATTER, SOME INDIVIDUALS / FORM BLANKS. AS BLANKS FORM, SPACETIME WILL APPEAR. BLANK / IS THE MEDIUM OUT OF WHICH SPACETIME COMES”. While this text appears upside-down at the top of the canvas, some of the same words float randomly across its surface. Are we meant to see these as “non-gravitational beings”? They do not appear to correspond to anything on the map, but they do seem to align themselves around the contours of the varnished, yellowed section of the right panel. Is this indicating a different texture or density within spacetime that the words are reacting to or affected by even while they are not affected by gravity? They float outside of the structure of the sentence, which is nonetheless provided to the viewer, though in a way that may cause some disorientation. Which way is up becomes hard to say categorically, especially when dealing in beings not governed by gravity. Sentences like these that expound upon “Forming Blank” are found in many other paintings from around this time. Taken together, they lend extra insight into the ways in which this work may be read. The same can be said for the next plane, with arrows being one of the most commonly recurring motifs in Arakawa’s work. The arrows also have to do with Blank and its forming. This will be explored more deeply in a forthcoming article. For now, one interpretation might be that energy-matter, perhaps starting from the dense sphere, generates the forming of blanks out of which unfolds spacetime, as indicated by the arrows.

Arakawa, Proper Noun, 1983-1984, acrylic, graphite, art marker and varnish on canvas (in two parts), 100 x 136 in.

This dense, dark grey sphere on the right panel is worth looking at more closely. It is similar to the imperfect flat black circle on the left-hand panel in Arakawa’s painting, Proper Noun, 1983-84. In that instance, if we are to accept Gins’s interpretation of this painting in Helen Keller or Arakawa, 1994, that the map, representing spacetime, unfolded from this circle, Arakawa has presented a sequence for the event represented: on the left-hand side of the panel the unfolding has not yet taken place, so the dot holds every potential happening. By the time of the right-hand panel, the dense energy-matter has unfolded and has been cleaved, resulting in openings and variation in tissues of density, which can perhaps be seen in the hazy white patches on the right panel. It is a flat, two-dimensional circle, but if the energy-matter inside is condensed, then perhaps its dimensional existence can be condensed as well, as in the case, potentially, of a black hole. If we understand the same unfolding of energy-matter to be taking place in Non-gravitational Being, then we must also forgo any sense of a sequence of events, since both the sphere and the unfolded spacetime are represented, though possibly on different dimensions. If the unfolding only truly begins to take place with the viewer present to activate it, then in some senses this sphere does act as a “YOU ARE HERE” dot—though it is not necessarily locating the viewer literally on the Île de la Cité. This does not negate the possibility that the viewer IS there, especially given that Arakawa appears to be dealing in different dimensions.

Arakawa, That In Which No.2, 1974-1975, acrylic, graphite, art marker and collageon canvas, 65 x 102 in. Photo: Rob McKeever

Moving to the left panel, it is harder to find a precedent for the three intersecting lines in other paintings showing maps. Perhaps this black, yellow, and red symbol is meant to indicate the Cartesian coordinate system, with three axes meeting at the point of origin, here representing three-dimensional space (width, length, and height). This is not to limit the dimensions in Arakawa’s painting to three. It seems likely that Arakawa is including density and texture as other calculable dimensions, an idea borne out by other paintings, and, if so, the three intersecting lines may represent something slightly different. Nevertheless, let’s accept for a moment that in Non-gravitational Being the Cartesian axes denote three-dimensional space. If this is the case, then the arrows could be read as time, representing the fourth dimension. In this scenario, time is not behaving in the way we are used to perceiving it, since it is moving in many directions. We are in a world created by the canvas and the rules are Arakawa’s, so while time can behave in anyway the artist sees fit, it seems more plausible that in Arakawa’s configuration of elements the arrows indicate the unfolding of spacetime, as previously theorized. Moving to the sphere, it can be seen as being comprehensive of more than three dimensions whether condensed or not. Regardless, the first and closest plane in relation to the viewer, with its curve at the bottom of the canvas may represent four dimensions as curved space.

When all elements are taken in together, the viewer most likely does not feel like they have been transported to Paris, so this is not an effective stand-in for a landscape painting. Instead, the viewer might begin to understand how spacetime and Blank relate during this unique act of perception. The viewer might not yet be at the stage in which they perceive themselves as Blank, but there are many other paintings and encounters staged by Arakawa that will get them there. For now, it is enough to understand that energy-matter can have different densities and textures and that this will affect the ways in which perceiving beings experience spacetime as it unfolds. These ideas will be explored further in a forthcoming article.

¹Charles Haxthausen, “Diagrams for the Imagination,” in Arakawa: Diagrams for the Imagination, ed. Ealan Wingate (New York: Gagosian, 2019), 13. In the corresponding endnote, Haxthausen states that this is his own “translation from the Dutch of what was clearly a Dutch translation from the Japanese” found in: Yoshiaki Tono, “Het schilderen van Shusaku Arakawa: een voorstadium van de verbeelding,” Arakawa, exh. cat. (Eindhoven: Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, 1966), n.p.

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Ambiguous Zones, 7

Dear Friends,
 
Ambiguous Zones 7 features a video recording of our January 12th, 2022, webinar with guest speaker Tiffany Lambert, curator of the Gallery at Japan Society in New York.  Tiffany’s lecture focused on the connection between Arakawa’s art and Arakawa+Gins’s architecture. We hope you find it as illuminating as we did!
 
Moving forward, Ambiguous Zones will arrive at your inbox every two months, which will give us time to explore certain topics in greater depth. In the meantime, please join us for the international conference AGxKANSAI 2022: Art and Philosophy in the 22nd Century After ARAKAWA+GINS, organized jointly by the Studies of the Architectural Body Research Group at Kansai University and Kyoto University of the Arts. The event will take place from March 11–15, 2022 at Kyoto University of the Arts with a combination of in-person and virtual presentations and a live broadcast of all sessions available online. We look forward to seeing you there, whether virtually or in person!

Yours in the reversible destiny mode,
Reversible Destiny Foundation and ARAKAWA+GINS Tokyo Office

Lecture by Tiffany Lambert on the art and architecture of Arakawa+Gins, January 12, 2022

Top image: Installation view of ARAKAWA: Waiting Voices at Gagosian Gallery, Basel, November 25th, 2021–January 22nd, 2022. Photo: Annik Wetter
(Left) Hard or Soft No. 3, 1969, acrylic, graphite, and marker on canvas, 95 ½ x 65 in.
(Right) A Couple, 1966–1967, oil, acrylic, marker, graphite, and crayon on canvas (in two parts), 95 x 124 in.

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Ambiguous Zones, 6

Dear Friends,

Happy New Year of the Tiger!

We hope you had a restorative holiday break. At the dawn of 2022, all of us here at the Reversible Destiny Foundation and the ARAKAWA+GINS Tokyo Office are looking resolutely toward the new horizon, fresh with limitless possibilities, following Arakawa and Madeline Gins’s commitment to a positive mindset coupled with (serious) playfulness.

We begin the year with the sixth issue of Ambiguous Zones, which features a video recording of a lecture by Dr. Ignacio Adriasola that took place on December 9th of last year, live from the exhibition ARAKAWA: Waiting Voices at Gagosian Gallery in Basel (on view until January 22nd). In his lecture, Dr. Adriasola illuminates some of the recurring themes and motifs present in the works of Arakawa on display at the gallery, which range in date from 1964 to 1984, and brings to the fore the sensuality of texture and materiality in the artist’s paintings.

Our next webinar will be on January 12th at 12pm EST with guest speaker Tiffany Lambert, Curator of the Gallery at Japan Society in New York. Her lecture will focus on the connection between Arakawa’s art and Arakawa+Gins’s architecture. We hope you will join us to continue learning more about their work! (click here to register in advance).

Yours in the reversible destiny mode,
Reversible Destiny Foundation and ARAKAWA+GINS Tokyo Office

Lecture and virtual tour by Dr. Ignacio Adriasola of the exhibition ARAKAWA: Waiting Voices at Gagosian Gallery in Basel, December 9th, 2021

Top Image: Arakawa and Madeline Gins, Study for Sites of Reversible Destiny, digital rendering, ca. 1994

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Ambiguous Zones, 5

Dear Friends,

This fifth issue of Ambiguous Zones arrives partway into the holiday season. Like last year, the final few weeks of 2021 may not feel quite the same as previous years, but that is all the more reason to focus on spending time with loved ones, whether in person or online. The RDF archive has no shortage of photographic evidence that Madeline and Arakawa did just that year round. Regardless of how your celebrations shape up this year, we hope these photographs of Madeline and Arakawa dining with friends and family get you into the festive spirit!

We also hope you will join us virtually for Dr. Ignacio Adriasola’s lecture and tour of the exhibition ARAKAWA: Waiting Voices, live from Gagosian Gallery in Basel on December 9th at 11am EST (click here to register in advance). 

In the meantime, we are sending warm wishes for a lovely December!

Yours in the reversible destiny mode,
Reversible Destiny Foundation and ARAKAWA+GINS Tokyo Office

Arakawa and Madeline drink coffee and eat pie inside after their meal outside, ca. 1977.
Madeline calls across the table to a guest at a dinner party at 124 W Houston St.
Arakawa laughs at a dinner with friends at 124 W Houston St.
Arakawa and Madeline eat with a friend at a reception.
Hotpot dinner with friends. Madeline with James Rossant (1928–2009; architect, artist) and another friend, ca. 1978.
Arakawa and Madeline gathered around the table with friends, 1977.
Arakawa and Madeline, post-dinner chat, with fruit and vegetables in a bowl, at 124 W Houston St.
Arakawa, mid-bite
Arakawa, Madeline, friends, and a delicious meal
Madeline and Arakawa relax over what appears to be breakfast.
Arakawa and Madeline at the cabin in Croton-on-Hudson, Westchester County, NY, enjoying what looks like an enticing Autumnal drink
Arakawa or Madeline enjoying a meal at a counter seat of a Japanese restaurant
Arakawa and Madeline with a group of friends, including Yoshiaki Tōno (1930–2005; art critic; on the right at the back), at a restaurant in New York, August 1978
Arakawa celebrates with friends and champagne.
Madeline and Arakawa share dinner at 124 W Houston St. with Colette Rossant (b. 1932; food critic; on the left, foreground), her husband James Rossant (on the left at the back), and their children (on the right).

Top image: Thanksgiving in July, or a heatwave or somewhere warm in November? Madeline Gins, Arakawa, and Madeline’s parents, Evelyn Gins, and Milton Gins enjoy turkey (or duck?)
in the great outdoors, ca. 1977.

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Ambiguous Zones, 4

Dear Friends,

In honor of Madeline Gins’s birthday on November 7th, the fourth edition of Ambiguous Zones focuses on one of her unpublished books. Madeline considered two possible titles that sum up the content quite well: “Conversations for our time: poet and physician” or “Medically in Our Time.” This book is based on a series of interviews that Madeline carried out with doctors with a variety of specialties, including neurology and psychiatry, an acupuncturist, and patients. Her overarching goal was to provide a course of action for the patient/reader that would help them navigate different approaches to their healthcare, including standard medical care, alternative therapies, vitamin regimens, and care related to their mental health, whether through psychiatry or other mind-body modalities like meditation and hypnosis.

Help us celebrate Madeline’s 80th birthday by doing whatever mind-body exercise speaks to you the most.

Yours in the reversible destiny mode,
Reversible Destiny Foundation and ARAKAWA+GINS Tokyo Office

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Madeline Gins conducted multiple interviews with a variety of doctors and patients over the course of five years for a book that she would never publish. Her goal was to approach the evidence surrounding various treatments for disease from a poet’s perspective. To Madeline, this meant “keeping intuition in play” while sorting through all of the information. In her proposal, Madeline also makes clear that her approach was not simply “a ‘holistic’ patchwork, but a unified way of knowing.” What she seems to be suggesting is that, as a patient, you would not just go separately to your endocrinologist, acupuncturist, psychiatrist, and another doctor or physical therapist for biofeedback. The poet would make sure all of these approaches were working together in harmony – something you yourself might be able to do after reading Madeline’s book.

In the 2020s, we have even more access to information than Madeline would have been able to dream of in the 1970s/1980s. At the touch of our fingertips, we can find an unending stream of articles and websites that may offer insight into what ails us, otherwise known as “Dr. Google.” We come away with way too much, often contradictory, information, and this was precisely the instance in which Madeline thought a poet could help. In our current time, the wellness industry is in full-swing, which means there is yet more advice available now that may have been considered more esoteric , though available if you sought it out and paid for it, in the last quarter of the twentieth century. A doctor will have their advice, using a scientific approach geared toward physical symptoms, an acupuncturist will look at the problem from a different perspective, and so on. Regardless of the source, a poet can synthesize all the evidence to come up with the best course of treatment, using every avenue available. In Madeline’s words,

When poetry succeeds, through the medium of intuition (a set of suspicions in the process of being confirmed) what is known comes to be easily apparent. In the kind light of poetry, whatever is picked up and brought forward may come to be so bathed in enthusiasm, that it will virtually glow with what it knows, so that what was once difficult to resolve takes place almost effortlessly.

One of her proposed titles for the book, “Medically in Our Time”, was inspired by the eleventh century poet and physician Ibn Sina, or Avicenna as he was known in Latin, who wrote The Poem of Medicine. Ibn Sina also wrote the Canon of Medicine, but he felt that his poem was more easily transmissible—easier to understand and memorize. Ibn Sina reviewed previous scholars on the subject of medicine and well-being, including Hippocrates and Galen. Madeline set out a similar task for herself in writing her own book. On the wellness side of things, Ibn Sina stressed the importance of taking care of the soul, which would include good company and music if someone was sick, and for general preventative care, moderate exercise.

Madeline conducted an extensive search for doctors who would be willing to sit down for an interview. Aside from reading articles and books written by doctors whom she then would track down, Madeline also asked friends and acquaintances for suggestions and collected names and numbers. One of her parents’ friends gave her a number of names of “vitamin” doctors. Another friend gave a list of Japanese doctors with a short description of each. She also received a number of doctor business cards from obliging friends. By including specialists, general practitioners, doctors focused on research, and patients, Madeline’s own research covered as many view points as possible.

While a poet’s response to or opinion about medical treatments is not something people tended to search out at the time, or now for that matter, Madeline invoked Avicenna to remind everyone that there were indeed other periods in time when the ideas of a poet and a physician were intermingled, and she started by asking the same questions, in essence, that he did. For example: “what do you think of the state of medical research today?” “What about diet?”

 

Madeline’s approach to the interviews sought to engage her conversant on a poetic level and this seems to have allowed some of the doctors the space to speak about certain not obviously medical motivations they may have had that would not have come up in a typical interview session. One neurologist in particular opened up about his interest in Buddhist philosophy as a source of inspiration for one thread of his research. This created a rather productive discussion about some of Madeline’s more philosophical ideas, including topology.

In a conversation with a psychiatrist and Jungian analyst, Madeline is offered another way to address her anger over death: is she able to build a building with the idea and the concept of the building in her mind, but build it just for a short while? Dr. Engel says that “independent of how long [the building] will stay,” you build. A child building a sandcastle understands this clearly.

 

When in conversation with a patient, Madeline channels her poetic-alchemical voice to offer a way of navigating through difficulties. Through a series of interesting questions, she is able to help a patient visualize her well-being as a space both in and around her, while becoming more aware of what happens to her experience of time during episodes of illness.

In this way we see the poetic voice as one that is highly adaptable. Madeline, as the author, moves from medical researcher, to questioner, to philosopher, to psychologist, to the analyzed patient. It feels quite seamless when reading through her conversations, edited for flow, and even in its incomplete, unpublished form, this book provides not only an interesting look at what was happening “Medically in [Madeline’s] Time”, but also at the human condition and how it responds to and copes with the struggle, in its various manifestations, for wellness. Throughout the interviews, Madeline seems to be circling the idea that the body inherently knows what to do to get better, the struggle becomes access to this knowledge. How do you break past conditioned thought patterns and the mind, which seem designed to keep us from what our body knows? We can look for Madeline and Arakawa’s attempts to answer this question in the vast majority of their projects, both realized and unrealized.

Top image: Madeline Gins on the telephone, ca. late 1980s

Lower images: Correspondence between Madeline Gins and various health professionals and patients

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Ambiguous Zones, 3

The Reversible Destiny Lofts—Mitaka (In Memory of Helen Keller) in its near-completion phase, 2005, Tokyo. Photo by Masataka Nakano

Dear Friends,

Did you know that today, October 15th, is the official “birthday” of the Reversible Destiny Lofts—Mitaka (In Memory of Helen Keller) in Tokyo? Designed by Arakawa+Gins and completed on this day in 2005, it is one of the most unique apartment buildings in Japan. There are a total of nine units in the building: five of them are currently occupied by tenants, two are offered for short-term stays and remote work space programs as well as group tours, events, and workshops, and the last two units house the ARAKAWA+GINS Tokyo Office, which manages all aspects of the operations there. The Mitaka Lofts has attracted thousands of people from around the world, many of whom have made a special pilgrimage to experience the space in person. At the time of its opening 16 years ago, people were beguiled by it and they hotly debated whether this was architecture or art. Arakawa+Gins’s vision, however, was clear that this was to be a residential building, inhabited and used by people. Through this creation, they aspired to change Japan and even the whole world.

In this third edition of Ambiguous Zones, we share with you the “making of” the Reversible Destiny Lofts—Mitaka accompanied by a selection of architectural renderings and photographs that attests to its distinctive and complex construction.

Because the building has received many thousands of visitors every year for the past 16 years, there is great need for repair and conservation. The Tokyo Office is gearing up for a global crowdfunding initiative, launching early next year* for this ongoing project of preservation, so please stay tuned for more information in the coming months. In the meantime, we hope that AZ3 will convey the significance of this actively lived and highly engaging work of Arakawa+Gins.

Yours in the reversible destiny mode,
Reversible Destiny Foundation and ARAKAWA+GINS Tokyo Office

 

Arakawa in front of the Reversible Destiny Lofts—Mitaka (In Memory of Helen Keller) on October 15, 2005, Tokyo. Photo by Momoyo Homma

The main inspiration for the design of the lofts was Helen Keller. In what kind of space would she have wanted to live? Her life’s story taught us that each of our bodies is unique and we are all born with an individual ability to form and use its surrounding space and environment. The Mitaka Lofts, as an experiential laboratory, functions as a space that instructs us and our body toward boundless freedom. There are many architectural elements that are unusual, to say the least. One of the most distinct is the floor with a series of small bumps that constantly make you conscious of the sole of your feet and at the same time stimulate blood circulation. For the visually impaired, like Helen Keller, this feature helps them navigate the room.  

Madeline Gins, Helen Keller or Arakawa, Japanese edition, Tokyo: Shinshokan, 2010.
Making the floor of the lofts with bumps

Other interesting components are floor-to-ceiling vertical poles that can have a variety of functions if you tap into your imagination. They can be exercise poles, ladders, shelves, and for people with walking difficulties, bars to grab onto that offer support as they move about in the space.

Reversible Destiny Lofts—Mitaka, Five-Part Loft, 2001, digital rendering
Reversible Destiny Lofts—Mitaka, Wall-Configurations + Volumes, Complete Set of Shape-Defining Elements, 2005, blueprint

 

Because of the role that Helen Keller played in the ideation of the design, the Mitaka Lofts has been a focus of interest among scholars not only of art and architecture but also from the areas of welfare, medicine, and physical therapy. In addition, the creatives who are involved in product or environmental design for people with disabilities also pay attention to this building in order to activate the power of alternative thinking. In this way, A+G’s unconventional philosophy contributes to a building of an inclusive and cooperative society that the world needs today.

In their 2002 publication Architectural Body, Arakawa and Gins wrote that “although our species, like every other species, has a characteristic architecture that serves its members well by increasing their chances of survival, it is far from having an architecture that could redefine life. The architecture we speak of in this book is within our species’ reach. It will be a way to undo, loosening to widen and re-cast, the concept of person.”** Realizing such an architecture was an enormously complicated challenge. Knowing there was no precedent of this kind and driven by a singular passion, Arakawa visited a number of top executives of major construction companies in Japan. Ultimately, a dream team consisting of veterans of the field was formed in Tokyo to take on the task: Yasui Architects & Engineers, Inc. finalized the detailed design and Takenaka Corporation worked on the construction.

Construction in progress
Construction in progress, February 10, 2005
(top) Construction in progress, (bottom) Reversible Destiny Lofts—Mitaka, digital rendering

At its birth, the Mitaka Lofts was received as an eccentric artwork and a curious erection in the middle of a residential neighborhood in Tokyo. While it still stands out when viewed from the street with its vibrant colors and whimsical shapes, it has gained the respect and affection of those who have resided/reside there and have participated in various events and programs. It is a building that continues to live and grow with every person’s unique experience and is a place where anyone who enters becomes the main character in the story of the “making of”.   

Arakawa and Momoyo Homma (Director, ARAKAWA+GINS Tokyo Office) inside one of the loft units, 2005. On the kitchen counter, by Arakawa’s right hand is a Japanese edition of the book Architectural Body published in 2004.
Arakawa at the construction site, 2005. Photo by Masataka Nakano
Aerial view showing the rooftop garden
Night view, 2006

**The ARAKAWA+GINS Tokyo Office already launched a crowdfunding campaign last month to raise funds for the first phase of this long-term project through the platform Motion Gallery based in Japan. Since the system doesn’t readily support donations coming from countries other than Japan, we are preparing a separate platform for English-speaking people to participate in the project.
**Madeline Gins and Arakawa, Architectural Body (Tuscaloosa and London: University of Alabama Press, 2002), xi–xii.

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Ambiguous Zones, 2

Madeline and Arakawa posing with a shrub in front of Châteaux D'Amboise, France, 1980

Dear Friends,

The end of summer brings another round of travel photos for the second edition of Ambiguous Zones! Hopefully some of you were able to travel yourselves this summer and extra bonus points if you got to see some art, like the Alexander Calder sculpture Arakawa and Madeline saw in France in 1980, or become the art, like Madeline did in Venice in the summer of 1969. We hope you enjoy this selection of photographs that bring Arakawa and Madeline from Japan to France and Italy, back to the U.S., and finally to Tula, Mexico.

Yours in the reversible destiny mode,
Reversible Destiny Foundation and the ARAKAWA+GINS Tokyo Office

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Ambiguous Zones, 1

Dear Friends,

At the Reversible Destiny Foundation, the start of summer brings with it an air of celebration for Arakawa’s birthday on July 6th, when he would have turned 85. This year, it also heralds a change in our monthly newsletter. We started the Distraction Series at the beginning of the pandemic when many of us were adjusting to being at home full time. As things begin to open up at various rates, we think it is time to move onto a new monthly newsletter, Ambiguous Zones, that will continue to explore various themes related to Arakawa and Madeline Gins.

For the inaugural AZ newsletter, we took summer and Arakawa as inspiration for a brief look at the ambiguous zone of the beach, as seen in Arakawa’s 1967 painting A Self-Portrait Near the Ocean. We hope this leaves you with something to think about as you take your own selfies on the beach this summer!

Yours in the reversible destiny mode,
Reversible Destiny Foundation and ARAKAWA+GINS Tokyo Office

Arakawa, A Self-Portrait Near the Ocean, 1967, oil, acrylic, graphite, art marker and collage on canvas, 90 x 63 in. Photo by Rob McKeever. Courtesy of Gagosian.

As summer officially begins, Arakawa’s A Self-Portrait Near the Ocean, 1967, becomes a title that could be applied to many a photograph we will see this season. This painting also seemed like a perfect choice for AZ1, since we can consider as ambiguous zones both the snapshot quality of the moment depicted and the setting – a beach.

An ambiguous zone lends itself to an infinite number of interpretations when considered from the perspective of Arakawa and Madeline. For example, in the late 1960s, Arakawa wrote: “What I want to paint is the condition that precedes the moment in which the imagination goes to work and produces mental representations.” This in and of itself describes a type of ambiguous zone – somewhere right between an initial sensation and the coding of this into perception. It takes on an additional layer of ambiguity in another sense. By recording this extremely short duration between sensation and perception on canvas, Arakawa has allowed it to coexist with an eternity (or however long the painting lasts)—it is therefore both a moment and an eternity at once. For further reading, Deleuze and Guattari’s discussion of the percept, affect, and concept is highly relevant here.[1]

Turning back to the painting in question, we see both things at play. By providing merely a trace of an outline of a person, in this case supposedly of the artist himself, Arakawa provides the viewer with some open-ended information that allows them to fill in the rest of the details using their imagination. The label, “sands” allows us to infer that Arakawa is on a beach, although one might picture a sand dune instead. Sand itself is not earth and no longer rocks, so exists in a kind of in-between, albeit very long, stage. If these sands make up a beach, its size will change as the tide goes in and out. The beach is a location of leisure but also of labor depending on how it is deployed.

The painting itself has a typical tripartite structure, with the background made up of the sky delineated by a silvery-grey band with the word AIRPLANE and an arrow pointing to a rounded shape going off the canvas, and the foreground marked off by a white band with another rounded shape labelled as BICYCLE. Without the labels of AIRPLANE and BICYCLE we wouldn’t have any real indication that these bands are a part of the space of the painting. Does the bike belong to Arakawa? Is the plane heading to or from JFK airport?

The figure of Arakawa, anchored by labels for HEAD and FOOT, exists in the midground. Between these labels, along where we might imagine the body to be, we find a number of rather unexpected words: SHIP, AIR, TINFOIL, and HAIR. Do we understand the ship to be somewhere behind the figure? Is the air around him? In front of him? Being breathed in or out by him? It doesn’t seem to be ruffling his hair, but maybe he is wearing a hat? Is the tinfoil covering a sandwich? Is the hair on someone else’s head?  To the right of the figure, SANDS is stenciled toward the bottom and OCEAN toward the top. Arakawa’s feet are clearly in the sand and if he is standing then the ocean and presumably the ship would be behind him, but these are really up to the imagination, since even if Arakawa is standing in the water, he would still technically have his feet in the sand. Could it also be possible that he is reclining? Also to the right, a round object labelled BALL is moving through the air, over ocean or sand.

The colored lines that divide the midground may offer additional clues as to the delineation of space. The ship is in the same band as the ocean, beneath this, the ball is on the same band as the air, followed by the tinfoil (in Arakawa’s hands?), and finally the hair, feet, and sands are all within the lowest band before the foreground. Perhaps the fact that the head and feet are outlined in the same color suggests that they are in the same plane at the front with everything else understood to be receding back into space the higher up it is marked on the canvas. Does this work for the tinfoil? If the tinfoil is behind Arakawa, it would be blocked from view. Just when the viewer thinks they have understood the rules of perspective within Arakawa’s composition, the tinfoil begins to re-write them. The lines dividing the midground into sections, or zones, appear to be doing so with regard to both height and depth. As in many works by Cézanne and Picasso, we might understand that we are getting two views—looking down (especially if the figure is reclining) and looking out (especially if the ship is in the ocean). The ambiguity abounds.

Photographs: Arakawa at the beach, Japan, ca. mid 1950s

[1] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, “Percept, Affect, and Concept,” in What is Philosophy?, translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 163-199.