# ARCHITECTURAL THEORIES /// Dislocative Architecture: An essay by Ed Keller about the work of Arakawa and Gins

photo: Site of Reversible Destiny – Yoro, 1993-95

After writing myself an essay about the work of Arakawa and Madeline Gins that I claimed, could be read in a celebration of Spinoza’s philosophy (Architectures of Joy), here is another essay, much more pushed towards something important: It is transcripted and extracted from a discussion between Arakawa, Madeline Gins, Johannes Knesl and Ed Keller. This discussion also involves Greg Lynn and Jesse Reiser but in order to remain coherent without strictly copying the conversation that can be found in the very beautiful book Reversible Destiny: We Have Decided Not To Die, I selected fragments of Ed Keller’s discourse approaching the notion of dislocation, subjectivisation, time’s nonlinearity and the beautiful savageness of this architecture:

For Arakawa and Gins, architecture assumes an unavoidable and definitive complicity in the structuring of a “person” as a complex assortment of devices that inflect the behaviors, beliefs, and perceptions, indeed, the totality of a subject. Within the model Arakawa and Gins employ, architecture participates in this structuring of being “human”. Their work proposes an alternative practice that identifies restrictions of practical and imaginative freedom and deflects these restrictions by using specifically architectural devices. Arakawa and Gins explicitly explore ethics, and power, through architecture; their work suggests a relation between the alternative ethics they propose and the architectural tactics they develop. Their work tests two issues: (1) the ethical question and the implied condition that it could arise “naturally” from a reconceptualization of habit and repetition (in architecture); and (2) the use of specific instrumentalities architecturally and/or perceptually to organize and alternative ethics and by extension an alternative ethics and by extension an alternative subject.

The value of work Arakawa and Gins have produced lies perhaps, not in the essentialization of specific techniques, but in the extraction from these techniques of a general set of principles that produce and depend on a redefinition of what constitutes body and perception.

Arakawa and Gins suggest that the relation between the practice of certain techniques and the emergence of an ethology may be tied together very closely; this relation operates on both the highly local scale of the individual’s proprioceptive sequence (through even the smallest element in a room, the scale of the coffee cup) and the urban scale they currently extend their work to. They formally and programmatically engage fields of strong probability –within a carefully delimited sociotemporal mise-en-scene- that produce subjects; they intend to breed an ethological practice.

It is suggested that through this organization of transitory cessations of habit a transformative subject will emerge. In contrast to the engines of discipline identified by Michel Foucault and others, we find here a much more fluid teleology in service of a transgressive ethics. Not in service of a reintegrative strategy, either socially or on the level of the individual, but in a quest to invent new selves constantly. As they theorize the body and the subject, Arakawa and Gins project a human who does not submit to a dialectical subdivision. The inchoate no longer means “outside of language” or “unformed”. An inchoateness of the body becomes a cessation of habit- becomes a processible and developmental state.

photo: Site of Reversible Destiny – Yoro, 1993-95

Cessation of habit critically deployed, Arakawa and Gins propose, leads to humans constantly engaged in the production, the living, of Spinozist “active affections”. My inclination is to ascribe to this condition the term “savage” –a savage practice. A savage architecture could encompass the consideration of not just form, but program, social positioning, conditions of manufacturing, and the like. It could deal explicitly with the limits of conditions for the capacities available to whatever medium one is working within, be it architecture, cinema, painting, music, politics, and so on. Inextricable from a savage practice would be an intimate knowledge of and working with a radical ethics. Clearly the work of Arakawa and Gins is within this realm. It takes itself neither too seriously )for it must be ludic) nor too lightly (for the continuation of the human race hangs in the balance, in the face of such utter atrocities as Hiroshima and Auschwitz). The savage practice is in alignment with a critical will –with an intelligent, cunning, benevolent Dionysian frenzy.


Ed Keller: One of the most important considerations in dealing with architecture on this level, and which I think Arakawa and Gins do, is questioning the sequencing of program. This is how we can engage the ethical question –in terms of being inchoate, in terms of madness, in terms of the absolute destabilization of the subject that we’ve been talking about. We expect that for the work that Arakawa and Gins are producing to be taken to its extreme, for it to work –in the way that they’re intending- the subject is removed from a linear perception of time. The subject is removed from language. And the subject is removed from proprioceptive sequence. So I would extend the notion of inchoateness to not only being able to represent oneself in language and time but also being able to constitute oneself as body, as perception in time. The ethical question comes into play because the destabilization of the subject that we would understand –through, say, Jacques Lacan- as a threat is not something that Arakawa and Gins are concerned with. Their work, a kind of savage practice would generate an absolute madness, and conventional wisdom would not be willing to accept that as something reasonable. However the savagery, or madness, that they project ties in to what someone like Norman Bryson would find coming out of the philosophers Nishitani and Nishida, in relationship to Mahayana Buddhism’s tenet of Sunyata. The “other” is not viewed as a hostile force. Bryson posits an ethics that would see its own constitution through potentiality, not as a violent propagation of will, but as a much more affirmative and light practice. It’s important to understand the intention not only of Arakawa and Gins but also of people like Tschumi through this kind of lens. The dislocation of the subject that we normally would consider “hostile” –when we think of a terrain that’s so difficult to navigate that people who visit Site of Reversible Destiny – Yoro, 1993-95, actually fall down and break their legs, for example –becomes something different when it’s viewed through this alternative lens. I’m not suggesting that we should break people’s legs, but coming from the perspective of a mountain climber, I’ve climbed and broken my leg. It didn’t stop me from climbing again. Arakawa’s response to questions about the park is that people ski, they break their legs, so why should we keep people out of the park.


I wonder if any of these architects (Eisenman, Koolhaas, Tschumi and Holl) think that it’s important not to die? It’s certainly something that Arakawa and Gins want to be taken seriously. And the question becomes, “What techniques are there for not dying?” I’d like to return to the point you (Johannes Knesl) made earlier that within Eastern culture a realization of this is something tied to a “soft and gentle” dislocation –to more of an internalization of the dislocation of space and spatial sequence. Thus, the question comes to mind, is it merely enough for Arakawa and Gins to suggest the possibility of a nonlinear time, to suggest the possibility of a kind of immortality? My initial response is always that it is necessary to develop the techniques, but at the same time, if one acknowledges the possibilities, then the techniques to a certain extent become internalized. I do myself believe that time does not need to be framed in a linear sense. Yet, that realization alone is not enough to enable me to move in and out of time, to become a “stuttering god”. I constantly wonder what techniques, what tactics are necessary to achieve this, to engage habit critically?

Johannes Knesl: This is obviously the most difficult issue that we are trying to deal with vis-à-vis architecture. It is usually handled in the realm of religion or something like religion.

Ed Keller: There is also a very direct moral response that Arakawa and Gins ground some of their arguments in by citing Auschwitz and Hiroshima as one motivating force for developing a utopian society that does not believe in death, that doesn’t have a graveyard. And you can make interesting correspondences to fictional ideas of utopia developed by people like Gabriel Garcia Marquez. There are certain resonances because of Marquez’s notion of the relationship to language and time that is developed in his novel One Hundred Year of Solitude. He dislocates the notion of the construction of madness, the notion of linear time, the notion of the development of character, the notion of the individual. There is a very interesting relationship to the inchoate, and one of the things that I’ve always brought to the reading of Arakawa and Gins’ work is the question of how they can take their ideas and bring them to the same level of deployment that Marques has used. What we’re looking for is a set of devices to produce an alternative subject, devices that really have a different relationship to time. Marquez’s writings –as well as Italo Calvino’s- are examples of devices, culturally and socially, that produce an alternative subject with an alternative relationship to time and faith. I do a have a faith –it’s not a religious notion- that time is not linear, and that we are not completely bounded by physicality. I would also accept as a workable possibility the fact that an ending is not the final conclusion or is not a hostile crisis.

Arakawa and Gins Madeline, Reversible Destiny: We Have Decided Not To Die. New York: Guggenheim Museum Publication, 1997.


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