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Ambiguous Zones, 15

Dear Friends,

As we begin to wrap up 2023, we are pleased to bring you Ambiguous Zones, 15, written by our Graduate Fellow Emiko Inoue, whose essay centers on Arakawa’s film Why Not: A Serenade of Eschatological Ecology (1969). Emiko is a masters student in the Art History Department at Hunter College, CUNY. Supported by The Feminist Institute Research Award, she is currently completing her masters thesis on the Japanese woman artist Mitsuko Tabe. In this essay, Emiko employs the interpretive approach of art critic Junzo Ishiko, a contemporary of Arakawa, as her guiding framework for examining the unique relationship between Arakawa’s 1960s paintings and Why Not. We hope you enjoy this thought-provoking investigation into Arakawa’s elusive and enigmatic film.

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

Figure 1. Poster for the Whitney Museum film presentation of Why Not, 1970

In-Between Human and Objects in Arakawa’s Why Not: A Serenade of Eschatological Ecology (1969)

By Emiko Inoue

Throughout Arakawa’s career, he produced only two films, Why Not: A Serenade of Eschatological Ecology (1969; fig. 1) and For Example: A Critique of Never (1971; directed by Arakawa). Two hours and ten minutes long, Why Not features one female protagonist played by Mary Window and a narration by Madeline Gins. Shot in Arakawa and Gin’s apartment at 124 West Houston Street for the most part, the film shows the woman examining everyday objects that surround her—the table, the door, the plant, the toilet, the sofa, etc.—in a deviated manner that ignores the intended use of the objects. In the background, Toshi Ichiyanagi’s music rings out at a monotonous tempo, emphasizing the film’s structure that more closely resembles an assemblage of actions than a clear narrative. All the while, the woman is apparently obsessively haunted by a mnemonic image of a dead man, who she saw lying dead on the road with his head immersed in blood. Toward the end of the film, the music becomes less sharp and dissolves into a mumbling sound, leading into a scene in which the woman places a reversed bicycle wheel in between her legs as a tool for masturbation (fig. 2); as one may suggest, the use of a spinning bicycle wheel is an explicit reference to Marcel Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel (1913). [1] In the next scene, the woman thrusts her body into a corner, which causes her head to bleed, and she collapses on the floor. A disembodied hand holding a stick suddenly appears from outside of the frame and says “open,” as a command directed at the woman’s closed hands. In the ending scene, a narrator says, “This is the end? Maybe not,” challenging the association of death with an end. 

Figure 2. Still from Why Not: A Serenade of Eschatological Ecology, 1969, 1:23:50

Why Not is an elusive and complex film. Its assembly of unfathomable scenes of objects used in odd manners, a mediation on eroticism induced by the motion of the bicycle wheel, and the imagery of death that opposes the idea of death as a termination of life, underscore the complexity of the film. The film is mostly known through film curator Amos Vogel’s writing in the acclaimed publication Film as a Subversive Art (1974), published four years after Why Not’s screening at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1970.[2] However, it was when the film screened at the Sogetsu Kaikan Hall, Tokyo, on November 7th, 1969, that it received the most robust critical attention. Arakawa’s sudden turn to filmmaking was unexpected to the Japanese audience and the reaction varied on how to interpret this film.[3] Art critic Junzo Ishiko, who had written widely on topics ranging from art to underground culture, saw a continuity between Why Not and Arakawa’s mid-1960s paintings, while experimental filmmaker Takahiko Iimura, who was well-acquainted with Arakawa as a neighbor in New York, interpreted the film as distinct from the paintings.[4] Several other critics, such as Koichiro Ishizaki and Tasuto Oshima, also wrote in response to the screening.[5]

Why did Arakawa turn to the medium of film? How might we contextualize Why Not along with Arakawa’s earlier body of works? Ishiko’s interpretation outlines Arakawa’s interrogation of illusionism, the relation between humans and objects, and the evocation of eroticism through objects. By using his interpretation as a guide and introducing Arakawa’s own words on the filmic medium, this text will examine Why Not’s relationship to Arakawa’s paintings and seek an answer as to why Arakawa chose film as his medium for Why Not.

On the occasion of creating Why Not, Arakawa wrote an unpublished manuscript titled “On Everything and Film: Why Not” (fig. 3). In the beginning, Arakawa states: “History is a mistake; the sum of actions without revelations, the record of the misappropriation of these by media.”[6] For Arakawa, art was one of the ways to reveal the “mistake” of history. Refusing to identify the film with the concurrent art trends in the late 1960s such as conceptual art, Arakawa explicitly wrote that his usage of film was in tandem with the development of “categories,” or subdivisions, in his ongoing painting series The Mechanism of Meaning (a collaboration with Madeline Gins).[7] The following excerpt from the manuscript indicates that Why Not, as well as The Mechanism of Meaning, was based upon the idea of illusion as a “mistake”:

I use film as one of many means for developing these categories, not as a move away from painting, sculpture or writing, but as a complementary medium for working of ideas. Discussions of how to escape the illusion of pictorial space are childish at best; the problem is to understand the functioning of illusionism or non-illusionistic representation to work with controlled illusion to uncover explanations rather than to avoid or despise these through ignorance.[8]

Figure 3. Arakawa, excerpt from unpublished manuscript, “On Everything and Film: Why Not.” Reversible Destiny Foundation archives

Here, Arakawa importantly notes that the interrogation of illusionism is foundational to his creation of Why Not, which is inseparable from his painting practices of the 1960s. Illusionism, in Arakawa’s sense, is a visual system that directs a relationality in a predetermined way. What Arakawa explored both in film and painting was to debunk such mandated visual system called illusionism.

Similar to Arakawa’s doubt on the system of illusionism, Ishiko’s interpretation of Why Not mirrors Arakawa’s explanation of his use of film as a way to revolt against the system of illusionism. In the following excerpt, Ishiko calls illusionism’s falsity as “fiction (kyoko)” and elaborates its significance in terms of the relationship between the human and objects:

Similar to the moment when the thick barrier of a glass disappears from our perception, while you feel the tropical fish inside the aquarium is “beautiful,” the “fiction” that determines the relationship between object and human withdraws in the live filmed-moving image. Not that the moving image tries to narrate such an issue, but that the experience of “viewing” a two hour and ten minutes live filmed-moving image, becomes the process of dissolving the “fiction.” And then suddenly, the boundless field where humans and objects are able to equivalently cross each other, appears as the act of “seeing” itself. [9]

Later in his text, Ishiko describes illusionism as “the determined relationship in between humans and objects, approached from the side of human.”[10] If, as mentioned above, the act of seeing the film becomes the act of dissolving this relationship in between human and objects, the film’s focus was on the illusionism’s predetermined relationship in between human and objects. Consider the scene of the woman coming into physical contact with a table and a door (figs. 4, 5). Instead of using a table or a door normatively as an everyday tool, the woman focuses on a tactile exploration of the objects, investigating them with her hands and her body. Here, the woman approaches the table or the door not as a utilitarian tool with a pre-determined use, thus creating a commensurate relationship between the human and the objects. In the same vein, we may also reconsider the scene where the woman investigates the bicycle wheel prior to masturbating with it. Through such investigation, the woman and the bicycle wheel are able to blend with one another. A similar instance of human-object equivalence can also be found in the scene where the woman simultaneously massages her breast with one hand and a piece of fruit with the other (fig. 6).

Based on this in-between human and object relationship in Why Not, Ishiko further contemplates on a series of Arakawa’s paintings from 1964–65 in which Arakawa stenciled objects that result in dim yet illuminating shadow-like forms on the canvas. By stenciling the form of an object rather than actually depicting it, Arakawa eschewed the tradition of illusionistic representation. Fully citing Arakawa’s words, Ishiko rephrases that these paintings reconsider illusionism in such a way that, “to think about the illusionism and perspective will be the clue to discover our analysis of memory and the disappearance of objects.”[11] For Ishiko, what these paintings reveal is illusionism’s predetermined relationship created in-between the object and human. Certain scenes in Why Not follow Ishiko’s reference on these paintings very closely, including the one in which the woman mimes drinking from a cup without a cup (fig. 7). Another appears roughly thirty-seven minutes into the film, when the woman is shown sitting on the toilet (fig. 8), while the voiceover states: “I saw a girl in a movie, sitting on a toilet seat eating a peach. She was looking into the bowl.” The narrator provides a detailed description of the relation between humans and objects, in the ways in which we might remember an image. In both scenes, we are made to be aware of how the relationship between humans and object are predetermined, and what Arakawa does in Why Not is to dissolve the relationship by the act of “seeing,” which could be singularly found in the space for filmic medium.

Figure 7. Still from Why Not: A Serenade of Eschatological Ecology, 1969, 00:32:36
Figure 8. Still from Why Not: A Serenade of Eschatological Ecology, 1969, 00:37:17

While further investigating Arakawa’s paintings from the mid-1960s, we find additional hints about his interest and experimentation with film, including loosely transferred images of Muybridge’s studies of motion alongside stenciled objects or sometimes objects themselves collaged on the paintings. In the center of ‘Untitled’ (1964-65; fig. 9) is a wooden board covered with an image-transfer of Muybridge’s studies of motion with a stenciled image of an umbrella layered over it. An actual umbrella penetrated by a funnel sits above this board. The relationship between the funnel, the umbrella, and Muybridge’s motion studies is perplexing, though Arakawa’s description of another painting, quoted by critic Yoshiaki Tono in 1965, provides a hint as to how it might be deciphered. According to Tono, Arakawa once described to him a painting by the name “The Umbrella and Funnel Having Intercourse,”[12] (fig. 10) which derived from the idea “to intersect things what a woman and a man could not ever intersect.”[13] These words imply that funnels and umbrellas symbolize sexual attributes and that ‘Untitled’ is an exploration of the relationship in-between the objects and their states of motion. Even in examples without Muybridge’s images, such as Face of Masturbation (1964; fig. 11), which captures the spinning motion of an indeterminable object, Arakawa demonstrates “motion” as a phenomenon that carries a meaning of sexual intercourse.[14]  Given that movements are inherent to the filmic medium (“motion picture”), using a spinning bicycle wheel as a tool for masturbation in film shows Arakawa’s continued experimentation with “motion” as a representation of eroticism. In other words, Arakawa’s experimentation with objects and motion in his mid-1960s paintings becomes further emphasized in the elongated and concentrated masturbation scene in the filmic form of Why Not. In Film as a Subversive Art, Amos Vogel aptly noted the peculiar eroticism that arises in between the human and object in the film, which compels a reconsideration of the normative representation of eroticism as occurring between humans. As Vogel wrote, Why Not is steeped in a “cold, pervasive eroticism, which, oblique and displaced at first, finally becomes explicit in one of the most bizarre masturbation sequences ever filmed.”[15]

Figure 9. Arakawa, 'Untitled', acrylic, collage on canvas, 1964-65

Junzo Ishiko’s writing testifies to the intricate ways in which Why Not demonstrates Arakawa’s interest in the human-object relationship and in the state of motion, all of which could be traced back to his paintings from 1964–65. Arakawa seems to have turned to film intending to address the issues of illusionism embedded in the relationship in-between human and object. As Arakawa’s placement of objects together with Muybridge’s motion studies in his paintings suggests, Arakawa thought the relationship in-between the human and object, which is predetermined in illusionism, could be dissolved by placing it into the situation of film. Arakawa’s foray into film, then, was inevitable: if, as Ishiko posited, Arakawa sought to “dissolve the ‘fiction (kyoko)’” through the “act of seeing,”[16] the film would have certainly seemed like the most suitable means for such experimentation.

And yet, it is still questionable what exact value Arakawa saw in the filmic medium of Why Not. In the very end of his unpublished manuscript “On Everything and Film: Why Not,” Arakawa reiterates:

At this moment in history which is a mistake what I make is viewed somehow as art. I live best by calling myself an artist. I fit in here now. Of course when things are better, society begins to make sense (or purposeful nonsense) I will fit anywhere and everyone will fit in art. Film is particularly good way to effect this. Why not try. Why not try everything.[17]

With the spinning bicycle wheel, death that is not an end, and dissolving relationships between the human and objects, the film swirls without a closure. Following Arakawa’s words, one could only guess that Arakawa’s swirling experiments in film were made in this spirit of: “Why not. Why not try everything.”[18] 

[1] Duchamp had been a major influence on Arakawa since their encounter in 1962. By using the bicycle wheel as a masturbation tool, it is evident that Arakawa was trying to have dialogues with Duchamp’s sexual conceptions in his works, such as The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), 1915/23.

[2] Before the screening at the Whitney, the film’s private screening was conducted at Virginia Dwan’s apartment in New York, on December 3, 1969.

[3] “Shoumen kara Sei ni torikunda Arakawa Shusaku no Hajimete no Eiga” (“Arakawa’s First Film that Confronts the Theme of Sex”), Bijutsu Techo, no. 322 (January 1970), 143. Why Not’s screening was first planned at the Film Art Festival in 1969, but it was canceled due to the organizer’s internal politics: some of the filmmakers accused the festival for becoming more of an establishment rather than maintaining the underground scene. In the same issue of Bijutsu Techo, Yasunao Tone wrote some of the details of this incident. See more in Yasunao Tone, “Uchinaru Geijutsu no Kachikiban Tadase” (“Revise the Value Base of Inner Art”), Bijutsu Techo, no. 322 (January 1970), 142-143.

[4] Takahiko Iimura, “Arakawa no Why Not ni tuite” (“On Arakawa’s Why Not”), Sogetsu Cinematheque, no. 69 (November 7, 1969), 4-5.

[5] Koichiro Ishizaki, “Dadaisuto no Dento–Arakawa Shusaku no Eiga Why Not” (“Dadaist’s Tradition–Shusaku Arakawa’s Film Why Not”), Eiga Hyoron 27 (January 1970), 50-52; Tasuto Oshima, “Eizou-Chitai ga Umareru Tokoro: Iimura Takahiko to Arakawa Shusaku no Sakuihin wo Mite” (“The Zone Where Moving Image is Born: On Seeing Takahiko Iimura and Shusaku Arakawa’s Work”), Space Design, no. 66 (April 1970), 104-105.

[6] Shusaku Arakawa, “On Everything and Film: Why Not,” unpublished manuscript, c. 1970, Box 2A03, Folder 9, Reversible Destiny Foundation Archives.

[7] In the manuscript, Arakawa wrote that twelve out of nineteen of the categories in The Mechanism of Meaning are explored in Why Not, including “Neutralization of Subjectivity,” “Localization and Transference,” “Presentation of Ambiguous Zones,” “The Energy of Meaning,” and “Degrees of Meaning,” among others.

[8] Shusaku Arakawa, “On Everything and Film: Why Not.”

[9] Junzo Ishiko, “Arakawa Shusaku no Eiga to Geijutsu-Zouhan: Ba ha Baitai de wa nai” (“Shusaku Arakawa’s Film and Art Rebellions: Space is Not a Medium”), Space Design, no.63 (January 1970), 105. All translations are mine.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid. Arakawa’s words originally appear in Yoshiaki Tono’s article “Arakawa Shusaku no Kinsaku” (“Recent Works by Shusaku Arakawa”), in Gendai Bijutsu 2 (February 1965), 8-19. Tono focuses on Arakawa’s paintings in the exhibition Arakawa: Dieagrams, held at the Dwan Gallery Los Angeles in March, 1964.

[12] The full title of this work is As he was somersaulting through the air, he stopped in mid-air and he caught a glimpse of the umbrella and the funnel having intercourse, he saw the umbrella falling down onto the hook which was looking at the comb in the funnel-shaped garden, (1964). 

[13] Yoshiaki Tono, “Arakawa Shusaku no Kinsaku” (“Recent Works by Shusaku Arakawa”), Gendai Bijutsu 2 (February 1965), 19.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Amos Vogel, Film as a Subversive Art (New York: Random House, 1974), 28.

[16] Ishiko, “Arakawa Shusaku no Eiga to Geijutsu-Zouhan: Ba ha Baitai de ha nai” (“Shusaku Arakawa’s Film and Art Rebellions: Space is Not a Medium”), 105.

[17] Shusaku Arakawa, “On Everything and Film: Why Not.”

[18] ibid.

front page News Recent Exhibitions

“Arakawa: A Line Is a Crack” exhibition at Castelli Gallery

We are happy to announce the opening of the exhibition ARAKAWA: A Line Is a Crack at Castelli Gallery 24 West 40th Street, New York, on September 7th, 2023.

Arakawa: A Line Is a Crack focuses on Arakawa’s work from the 1960s. After a period in the late 1950s in which Arakawa was active in the Tokyo avant-garde art circles, he arrived in New York City in December 1961. He soon joined the other young artists in the city, including Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Robert Morris, whose works were largely influenced by Marcel Duchamp. The exhibition reflects the liveliness of the New York art scene at the time, as well as Arakawa’s aspiration to think of painting in a new way.

For more information, please visit the Castelli Gallery website

front page News Recent Exhibitions

The Mechanism of Meaning: Arakawa and Madeline Gins
Shall we go just a little farther away?

The Mechanism of Meaning: Arakawa and Madeline Gins  — Shall we go just a little farther away?

Venue: Sezon Museum of Modern Art, Karuizawa, Nagano, Japan
Period: April 22 – October 9, 2023
Opening hours: 10:00am-6:00pm(Admission until 30 minutes before closing)
Holiday: Thursdays(except May 4 / Open every days in August)

For more information, visit:

Shusaku Arakawa was born in Nagoya in 1936. After some time in Tokyo, in 1961 he chose to abandon his artistic activity there to move “just a little farther away” to New York where he based himself at Yoko Ono’s studio. In his interactions with numerous artists there, including Marcel Duchamp, Arakawa met the poet Madeline Gins (1941-2014) who would become his lifetime partner. The two delved deeply into the concept of “meaning,” noting that while people feel/think, it is generally in terms of meaning conveyed through words. This exploration evolved over 25 years into The Mechanism of Meaning, a project encompassing 127 items including 81 large-scale paintings, 44 drawings, one photograph, and one architectural model.

These works are, in effect, a major lifework series, brought together in one place for this exhibit. We invite you to go “just a little farther away” to a place that transcends the conventional viewing experience.

(quoted from Official Website)

Events front page News

Neon Dance: Beyond Body and Things

‘Beyond Body and Things’ by Neon Dance explores social connectivity and collaboration using bio-inspired robotics. The work is designed to unravel the origins of loneliness and explores the idea that loneliness stems from the interaction of the individual with the social realm, so that it is not just mental, but also physical, sensorial, and material.

Adrienne Hart (Neon Dance) presented her work both at Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale 2018 and Setouchi Art Triennale 2019. It was this experience of working with rural communities in Japan that led the artist to consider why, given our hyper connectivity, loneliness is so prevalent today.  ‘Beyond Body and Things’ invites participants to enter the installation and leave their mark in sand whilst interacting with robot creatures and a virtual performer. The work is an attempt to cultivate the ‘architectural body’—a concept formulated by Madeline Gins and Arakawa—as a potential cure to loneliness. Perhaps there’s little room for loneliness if life is a stream of constant connections where one relates not just to people but also objects and environment. 

‘Beyond Body and Things’ is a collaborative work developed in 2021-22, during which time Neon Dance ran a series of ‘co-creation’ workshops with Bristol Robotics Lab, sharing and inviting members of the public to feed into the robot creation process. There are 2 twin robots that feature in ‘Beyond Body and Things’ with turtle inspired feet. The robots use tele-operation to enable a live performer from the UK to respond to audience members physically. Kneel down next to one and hold out your hand to become an attractor, the robots will follow and respond to your movement. At the end, step back and observe the sand painting created by both robot and human bodies. 

Event Information
November 3, 4, and 5 2022 
@Former YOSHIDA Sake Brewery, Tadotsu town, Kagawa, Japan
Setouchi Triennale 2022



Concept / Direction:
Adrienne Hart

Adrienne Hart in collaboration with Fukiko Takase

Robot Design and Concept 
Bristol Robotics Lab (Hemma Philamore, Alix Partridge and Calum Gillespie) 

Dance Artists
Fukiko Takase

Sebastian Reynolds 

Mikio Sakabe 

Funded by 
Arts Council England National Lottery Project Grants, Brigstow Institute, The
Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation and EPSRC Impact Acceleration Fund.

Supported by 
Swindon Dance, University of Bristol, The Place, Wellcome Collection, Bristol
Beacon, Dance4, South East Dance, Reversible Destiny Foundation and Arakawa
+ Gins Tokyo Office

Top image: Photo by Miles Hart

front page Recent Exhibitions

STILL ALIVE – Aichi Triennale 2022

STILL ALIVE  Aichi Triennale 2022

Aichi Arts Center , Nagoya City, Japan

July 30 – October 10, 2022


We are pleased to announce that Arakawa and Madeline Gins will be participating in the Aichi Triennale 2022 “STILL ALIVE”.

For more information, visit

front page News Recent Exhibitions

Dead Lecturer/distant relative:
Notes from the Woodshed, 1950-1980

Dead Lecturer/distant relative: Notes from the Woodshed, 1950-1980
Exhibition at the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery

Lenfest Center for the Arts, Columbia University
615 West 129th Street
New York, NY 10027

Through Oct 1, 2022
Arakawa’s paintings, Who is it? No. 2 (1970) and “No!” says THE SIGNIFIED NO. 2 (1973), are now on view as part of the group exhibition curated by Genji Amino, Dead Lecturer/distant relative: Notes from the Woodshed, 1950–1980, at the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University. The exhibition focuses on works by Asian American and African American artists whose approaches to abstraction provided alternatives to prevailing vocabularies for representation and resistance during the social movements of the 1960s and 70s, and for whom the parameters of visibility continue to remain a problem for thought today.

Image: Arakawa, “No!” says THE SIGNIFIED NO. 2, 1973. Acrylic, oil on canvas, styrofoam.
Collection Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; gift of Mr. and Mrs. Miles Q. Fiterman, 1991

AG conferences Events front page News

“AGxKANSAI 2022” Arakawa and Gins International Conference

We are happy to announce 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 on 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. Registration is now open through the conference website!

AGxKANSAI 2022: Art and Philosophy in the 22nd Century After ARAKAWA+GINS
Date: March 11–15, 2022
Venue: Kyoto University of the Arts, Kyoto, Japan (on-site and online)

Building on the issues and themes explored at previous Arakawa and Gins conferences (AG1: University of Paris X, 2005; AG2: University of Pennsylvania/Slought Foundation, 2008: and AG3 Online/Columbia University/Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2010), AGxKANSAI 2022 will explore the shape of art and philosophy toward/in the 22nd century through lectures, dialogues, presentations, exhibitions, and performances. “After ARAKAWA+GINS” signifies our desire to follow after their future-forward vision even after their untimely demise.

The conference opens on March 11th with a conversation between Takashi Ikegami and Yasuo Kobayashi, followed in the afternoon by a virtual tour of the exhibition, the first on-site paper session, a conversation between Hideo Kawamoto and Naohiko Mimura, and an online lecture by Adrienne Hart. From March 12th, various programs will take place including round-tables, research presentations, and workshops by Arakawa and Gins researchers from Japan and abroad. A reproduced version of Arakawa’s early installation work Bottomless I (SOCIOUS),1963, will be on view in conjunction with the event.

Please do not forget to register in advance

Bottom image: Arakawa, Bottomless I (SOCIOUS), 1963,
acrylic panel, cloth, mirror, steel, steel mesh, steel wire, string, and thread, 41 x 100 x 100 in.

Events front page News Recent Exhibitions

ARAKAWA: Waiting Voices at Gagosian Gallery in Basel

The exhibition ARAKAWA: Waiting Voices at Gagosian Gallery in Basel will be opening on November 25th, 2021. It will be on view through January 22, 2022.

The exhibition features Arakawa’s paintings and drawings produced between 1964 and 1984, the twenty-year span that saw him experimenting with diagrammatic motifs, language, texture, and space that ultimately led the artist, together with Madeline Gins, to the field of architecture. For further information, please visit the Gagosian website.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Reversible Destiny Foundation will host a virtual lecture by Dr. Ignacio Adriasola, live from Basel on December 9th, 11 AM EST. Focusing on works featured in the exhibition, his talk will address major developments in Arakawa’s practice through the mid-1980s. This program is approximately 1 hour in length, including Q&A at the end. Click here to register in advance! 

Lecture Précis:

The white on off-white ground of an immense canvas stretches before us, like sand on a beach. Overlapping layers of acrylic varnish divide its surface creating a subtly dark imprint. Thin graphite lines stretch and direct our gaze across the canvas, indicating the shortest distance possible between enigmatic figures and words. Objects leave their mark, like shadows. As we step away from the canvas, we begin to discern a secret geometry: waiting voices, captured right at the moment before thought finds form.

Arakawa’s canvases speak a language that is at once simple, yet hard to understand. It is impossible to access them without poetry: one finds drawn images and words that never meet; instructions that can’t be fulfilled; invitations that remain unopened. Someone’s voice emerges within, everywhere and nowhere at once. The voice traps us in descriptions pointing to non-existing things: “This rectangle is a photograph of this entire painting,” one work claims, but, of course, there is no photograph in the canvas. Another entices us to imagine implausible qualities and actions, such as “sizeless,” “hypostatize,” “to cleave.” The works describe, direct, admonish, and tease the viewer. And like all good teases they are at once sensual and metaphysical, comical and dead-serious.

If painting is traditionally imagined to belong and reflect the constituted world, Arakawa inverts that relationship. This is because, as Duchamp once noted of Arakawa’s diagrams—and Madeline Gins constantly reminded us since—these are not paintings. Where did these post-paintings come from? How do they operate? Focusing on works featured in this exhibition, my talk will address major developments in Arakawa’s practice through the mid-1980s. I will situate Arakawa in relation to the reception and theorization of surrealist practices in Japan, and I will trace the shift his work took since his emigration to New York, and the beginning of his life-long collaboration with his partner, the critic and poet Madeline Gins.

In brief: the post-paintings emerge as a means first of examining the world of objects in their state as a yet-unformed possibility. Madeline Gins noted that the diagrams model, but are not just models. Arakawa found in them a method for examining potentiality, by indexing with a secret geometry a place somewhere beyond existence. Arakawa’s work sparked important critical debates on the nature of the image (Nakahara Yūsuke and Nicolas Calas), of absence and presence (Miyakawa Atsushi and Jean-François Lyotard), and on art’s capability as a “thinking field” (Gins), opening up a line of investigation that eventually led him to the body as the place where possibility resides.


Dr. Ignacio Adriasola teaches in the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory at the University of British Columbia. His research focuses on experimental art and culture in postwar Japan. His book Fragment, Image, and Absence in 1960s Japan is forthcoming from PSU Press (Fall 2022).

Top Image: Arakawa, Waiting Voices, 1976–77,
acrylic, graphite, marker, and varnish on canvas and linen (in 2 parts), 70 x 96 in. Photo by Robert McKeever

Bottom Image: Dr. Ignacio Adriasola at the Reversible Destiny Lofts—Mitaka (In Memory of Helen Keller), Tokyo, 2017.
Photo by Takeyoshi Matsuda

front page News

Children Who Won’t Die, Arakawa / WE, Madeline Gins

Reversible Destiny Foundation is pleased to announce that the International edition of the Documentary Films Childen Who Won’t Die and We, directed by Nobu Yamaoka, is now available for purchase online

The two documentary films explore in depth the life and works of Arakawa and Madeline Gins, including interviews with the artists, their friends, professionals from various disciplines as well as the residents of Arakawa+Gins’s architectural works.

For purchase information:


Film 1: Children Who Won’t Die, ARAKAWA
Language: Japanese / Subtitle: English, Japanese
Running Time: 80mins

Can a house help us not to die? Artists/scientists/revolutionaries Madeline Gins and Shusaku Arakawa declared that our lives need not end, and created dwellings whose purpose is to reverse our destiny and defy death itself.
The Reversible Destiny Lofts in Tokyo, with their vivid colors, undulating floors, irregular lines, and spherical rooms were the culmination of their research and speculation. Arakawa said, “Living here, human beings will never die, as the potential ability of their bodies can be maximally developed.” This film includes interviews with residents of the Reversible Destiny Lofts and an astrophysicist, as well as growth records of children who were raised in these remarkable buildings. Children Who Won’t Die proudly sings a celebration of life, highlighting the possibilities of a world no one could ever have imagined before.

Shusaku Arakawa
Haruo Saji
Yuma Yamaoka
Sono Yamaoka
Residents of Reversible Destiny Lofts Mitaka

Director: Nobu Yamaoka
Music: Keiichiro Shibuya
Narrator: Tadanobu Asano


Film 2: WE, Madeline Gins
Language: English / Subtitle: Japanese
Running time: 60 mins

How does the body meet the future? Madeline Gins – poet, architect, visionary – talks about the origin of creation, its secrets, and the future of humanity. This film documents a visit with her to her studio and to the Bioscleave House in East Hampton, NY  – the only example in the USA of the revolutionary, death-defying architecture she developed with Shusaku Arakawa. Gins describes her first encounter with Arakawa, and sheds light on his representative works, including his classic series of artworks, Mechanism of Meaning, which served as the foundation for the procedural architecture projects they later created together. The film also shows visitors navigating in, reacting to, and being transformed by the peculiarities and wonders of the space of Bioscleave House.

Madeline Gins
Shusaku Arakawa
Lucas Poole
Sofiane Poole
Gillian Poole
Hubert Poole

Director: Nobu Yamaoka


For more information please visit:

front page Recent Exhibitions

Multiples, Inc.: 1965–1992

Arakawa, Landscape (mistake), 1970

Arakawa’s prints from the late 1960s to the 1970s and published by Multiples, Inc. are now on view at this historical exhibition Multiples, Inc.: 1965–1992 curated by Dieter Schwarz at Marian Goodman Gallery in New York. Founded in 1965 in New York by Marian Goodman, Multiples, Inc. published seminal editions with some of the most important artists of the 20th century over a period of almost three decades between 1966 and 1992. The exhibition gathers for the first time a selection of over 150 editions published by Multiples, Inc. in collaboration with over 70 artists.


Multiples, Inc.: 1965–1992

Marian Goodman Gallery, New York

Jan 12 – Feb 27, 2021


For more information, visit for the press release, the list of works, and to explore their online viewing room.

front page News Research

Arakawa and Madeline Gins in the 22nd Century: The Body and the Experience in the Reversible Destiny Mode

Reversible Destiny Foundation is pleased to announce the new publication Arakawa and Madeline Gins in the 22nd Century: The Body and the Experience in the Reversible Destiny Mode

This book explores the philosophy of Arakawa and Madeline Gins who set out to fight the human destiny of mortality. Ten years after the death of Arakawa (1936–2010) and six years after the death of Madeline Gins (1941–2014), this significant collection of texts rediscovers Arakawa and Gins’s thought, which still continues to inspire and thereby remains in progress.

“Humans don’t die”

Arakawa and Madeline Gins made many unforgettable statements on life and death, and created spaces such as the “Reversible Destiny Lofts Mitaka—In Memory of Helen Keller” and the “Site of Reversible Destiny—Yoro Park”, which rattle our senses and perceptions. In our time of uncertainty, their philosophy paves the way for many discoveries, inspirations, and a heightened awareness and concern for the body. 

How did Arakawa and Gins try to overcome the contradiction between not dying and human mortality? This publication provides opportunities to rethink, from multiple perspectives including body theory, philosophy, architecture, art, psychology, education, etc., the philosophical and architectural practices of Arakawa and Gins, not only in retrospect but also as being still in progress. In addition, it introduces recent Arakawa and Gins-related exhibitions, performances, and other projects. 


Editors: Mimura, Naohiko and Kadobayashi, Takeshi.

Paperback: 315 pages

Publisher: Film Art, Tokyo, 2019

Language: Japanese

ISBN-10: 4845919176

ISBN-13: 978-4845919178


The book is available for purchase on

front page Recent Exhibitions

How to Survive

Arakawa + Gins in group exhibition How to Survive, at the Sprengel Museum, Hannover, Germany.

Gustav Metzger – Shusaku Arakawa/Madeline Gins – Alina Szapocznikow – Tracey Emin – Valérie Favre – Jean-Pascal Flavien – Elizabeth Jäger – Mike Kelley – An-My Lê – Beatrice Olmedo

On view November 14, 2020 through February 28, 2021.

“Expulsions, disasters and injuries are ruptures in human lives that prompt survivors to question the meaning and nature of survival. Managing to come to terms with this issue is like a creative act, a self-empowerment. The exhibition project will evoke this power of art by presenting three central figures whose work will be shown in depth in combination with individual works by other artists.

Gustav Metzger (1926 – 2017), Shusaku Arakawa (1936 – 2010)/Madeline Gins (1941 – 2014) and Alina Szapocznikow (1926 – 1973) represent three central positions that formulate survival strategies in their artistic work and address existential issues that are particularly urgent today.”

– Carina Plath, curator