The Mechanism of Meaning

Arakawa and Gins began to collaborate on The Mechanism of Meaning in 1963. While it exists as a series of panels of acrylic and mixed media on canvas that each measure 96 x 68 inches, its development can be traced through a series of publications that represent their ideas and research in another form. They saw The Mechanism of Meaning as an ongoing work, an open-ended process of research and invention. It represents a unique foray into a region where art, experience and thought meet and define each other.

A group of the panels was first shown at the Venice Biennale in 1970. In the following year, Mechanismus der Bedeutung was published and all existing panels were exhibited in 1972 in Germany, Italy and Switzerland. By 1978, a new section as well as numerous drawings were added to the project and gathered together in The Mechanism of Meaning, Work in Progress (1963-1971, 1978) – Based on the method of Arakawa and published in English, French and Italian. In this edition, the original nineteen chapters that structured the work were reduced to sixteen chapters, with the final chapter appearing again as ‘Review and Self-Criticism,’ (in this case comprised of other discrete works by Arakawa).

The third edition of The Mechanism of Meaning published in 1988 reproduces the first fifteen chapters of the second edition and replaces the sixteenth chapter with an expanded selection of drawings and text investigating architectural space. These drawings comprise part of the second version of The Mechanism of Meaning 1988, held in the collection of the Sezon Museum of Art, Karuizawa, Japan. The first version in its final form is illustrated in the Reversible Destiny – Arakawa/Gins Guggenheim Museum Soho catalog published on the occasion of the exhibition of the same name in 1997, comprising eighty panels that make up the first fifteen chapters, a two-panel digital image of City Without Graveyards (Reversible Destiny) as the sixteenth, and a panel displaying a table of contents.


Mechanismus der Bedeutung (Werk im Entstehen: 1963-1971)

Author: Arakawa in cooperation with Madeline Gins, (introduction by Lawrence Alloway)

Hardback/Paperback: 130 pages

Publisher: F. Bruckmann KG, München, 1971

Language: German

ISBN: 3-7654 1440 9 (hbk.)

ISBN: 3-7654 1473 9 (pbk.)

150 hardback copies published as a limited edition containing a silk-screen print signed and numbered by the artist from 1/150 – 150/150


The Mechanism of Meaning, Work in Progress, Work in Progress (1963-1971, 1978). Based on a the method of Arakawa

Author: Arakawa and Madeline H. Gins

Hardback/Paperback: 102 pages

Publisher: Harry N Abrams, New York, 1978

Language: English

ISBN: 0-8109-0667-8 (hbk.)

ISBN: 0-8109-2165-0 (pbk.)


Publisher: Maeght Editeur, Paris

Language: French

ISBN: 285-587-0534 (hbk.)


Publisher: Takagi Gallery, Nagoya

Language: Japanese


The Mechanism of Meaning

Author: Arakawa and Madeline Gins

Hardback/Paperback: 164 pages

Publisher: Abbeville Press Inc, New York, 1988

Language: English

ISBN: 0-89659-809-8 (hbk.)