Arakawa + Gins, Yoro Park – Site of Reversible Destiny, Gifu,1995, Photo Trane DeVore
It has been several months now that I started an oral and written conversation with Madeline Gins, co-founder with Arakawa of the Reversible Destiny Foundation that I have been evoking many times this last year (see the list of articles at the end of this post). In this matter I shamefully recommend the essay I wrote about a Spinozist interpretation of their work as an introduction to this interview for whoever is not familiar with it.
Summarizing Arakawa/Gins’ thesis in one or two sentences is a dangerous assignment as their work is infinitely more complex and as a shallow reading usually leads to a misunderstanding of this same thesis. If I nevertheless decide to try, I would say that their work explores theoretically and practically the possibility of composing an Architectural Body, which lays in the relationship created between the human body and architecture. The former being stimulated by the latter, a deep understanding of this relation informs design in order to allow the body -body here needs to be understood as a person in an absolute refusal of the Cartesian dichotomy between the mind and the “body”- to acquire an awareness of its environment and thus strengthen its internal composition. For whoever who is not satisfied with this thesis simplification -and you should not be !- I invite you to read the following interview and the various books that Arakawa and Madeline Gins wrote since the end of the 1960’s.
This interview is divided in two parts. The first one is an epistolary exchange between Madeline and myself informed by two face to face conversations. The second, that I will publish tomorrow is a discussion we luckily had in the Bioscleave House designed by Arakawa + Gins and achieved in 2008 in the Hamptons.
In the context of this interview, I would like to thanks Madeline herself, of course, but also Maurizio Bianchi Mattioli, Esther Cheung, Hiroko Nakatani, Joke Post Mac Nair and Trane DeVore.
Reversible Destiny: Architectures of Joy: A Conversation Between Two Puzzle Creatures [Part A] (read Part B)
1. Léopold Lambert: XVIIIth century French physiologist Xavier Bichat stated that life is an ensemble of functions that resist death. If we consider this axiom, death is a continuous process –and not a punctual event–whereas life is the tension between this process and a form of active resistance against it. Many people seem to believe that when you state “We have decided not to die,” you imply the killing of death. On the contrary, my understanding of your work leads me to see you as seeking to engage instead in a continuous struggle against death thanks to a relationship to be forged between the body and its direct environment. Does that appear to you as a correct assumption?
Madeline Gins: The puzzle creature known as Léopold Lambert makes a correct assumption. Puzzle creatures need to figure out what goes on as them. Not succeeding in figuring that out equals, by my lights, having to remain a mere mortal. Xavier Bichat, whose death at the ripe-old age of thirty-one, from a fever that supposedly came on as a result of a bad tumble down a flight of stairs (Wikipedia entry), should most obviously be attributed to Ignorance, a much ignored leading cause of death, delivered up a useful enough rallying call [WE HAVE IN LIFE AN ENSEMBLE OF FUNCTONS THAT RESIST DEATH! or BY PERFORMING YOUR ENSEMBLE OF FUNCTIONS YOU WILL STAVE OFF DEATH! or ACTIVELY RESIST DEATH THROUGH THE ENSEMBLE OF FUNCTIONS YOU LIVE AS!]. Unfortunately, to this day, both living and dying remain unfathomable. How can the viable—us—be kept viable?
Those composed of tissues of density—Bichat was the first person to distinguish and name bodily tissue!—have their own bases of operation–ensembles of functions– that need further looking into and, yes, further architectural guidance and support. Bichat’s statement suggests the further need, when it comes to staying alive, for large and small efforts to be made by an organism on its own behalf, for there to be a cascade of death-resisting efforts, and I conceive of the arduous task of staying alive in these same general terms. I think back to Bichat’s great contemporary, French philosopher-psychologist Maine de Biran, who, if I remember correctly, made sure to take the environment into consideration in his explication of human effort [La Psychologie de l’Effort,1889] Yes, Procedural Architecture prompts a puzzle creature to go about continually making an endless slew of efforts to stay viable. It also prods her to keep in sight her puzzle nature, an array of solution-defying qualities, her conundrum status.
Each organism that persons (Not every organism that persons will succeed in forming a person!) lives as a puzzle creature to herself/himself. How does a puzzle creature manage to walk and talk? Or, for that matter, how does a puzzle creature nestled within the universe manage to effuse voluminously out a distinct world of ample volume, a world within which to move about?
Filmmaker Nobu Yamaoka, who has lived for an extended period of time within a work of Procedural Architecture (Mitaka Lofts, Tokyo) and has made two films about this type of architecture, Children Who Will Not Die and We, reports that each time he slept in his loft’s sphere room, he dreamt of explosions, explodings-open. This strikes me as important evidence. Evidence of what you might ask. Evidence of the ongoing cleaving (bioscleaving) of the puzzle creature and of the gradual exploding-out of the sentient volume (“voluming”) that is, is and is a puzzle creature’s all and everything. Evidence, then, of the Architectural Body (Definition: Body Proper plus Architectural Surround) that Arakawa and I suggest be used, instead of the body proper, as the minimal unit to be taken into consideration when trying to determine what lives as a human being.
Procedural Architecture relies on twenty or so architectural procedures that directly address, four-dimensionally of course, much of what is puzzling about human nature and the universe at large. Discoursing with, through and across human puzzles, addressing living puzzles on the brink of becoming posthuman/transhuman, this architecture is set up to bring into evidence what could otherwise most probably not have become apparent.
Procedural Architecture prompts a puzzle creature to figure out the puzzle she lives as, to make note of what in every respect happens as her. What a pity that until now the few who have been willing to try entering the puzzle to find possible solutions were mostly on their own. What an impossible task this once was, and what a different impossible task, a decidedly less impossible one, this inquiry into the daily enigma will become in an age of Procedural Architecture.
2. Léopold Lambert: One has to be careful not to consider the Site of Reversible Destiny – Yoro (see the first photograph) as a playground in the usual sense of the word; a place to play in for awhile. Nevertheless, I think that the word playground has to be kept for Yoro in Constant Nieuwenhuys’ sense of it, the space of the Homo Ludens who adopts a playful behavior as his (her) main occupation. This reading allows me to ask if you are interested in proposing, along with a general resistance to death, a different way of life that would primarily focus on what you call the construction of the Architectural Body?
Madeline Gins: Architecture that presents itself procedurally to people helps them take note of their architectural bodies. Architecture as usual could not care less about the architectural body, sadly enough. Why sadly? Because each of us does form (read: co-form) a huge extended body in respect to, and as-if joining up with, what surrounds her. So that we can begin to fathom ourselves as creatures, we must at least strive for some degree of accuracy when trying to determine how far each of us extends out into the everywhere that is bioscleave. In recognizing how extensive we are, we grow more grand, less pitiful and less defeatist, and more self-reflective body-wide. Yes. Procedural Architects generally put the emphasis on the architectural body, but they also construct into their works the means for balancing out several different types of world-constituting procedures. Arakawa and I present these world-constituting procedures in a forthcoming book, “Alive Forever, Not If, But When.”
Former articles about Arakawa + Gins on the Funambulist:
– ARCHITECTURES OF JOY. A spinozist reading of Parent/Virilio and Arakawa/Gins’ architecture
– Dislocative Architecture: An essay by Ed Keller about the work of Arakawa and Gins
– Letter from Jean-Francois Lyotard to Arakawa and Madeline Gins
– The Modernist Ideology of a Normative Body