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Yoro Park 05 - Photo by Leopold Lambert
Elliptical Field – Site of Reversible Destiny Yoro by Arawaka and Madeline Gins (1995)
Photograph by Léopold Lambert

I had recently the great chance to (re)visit two of the three architectures designed by Arakawa and Madeline Gins in Japan, namely Yoro Park in Gifu prefecture and the Mitaka Lofts in Tokyo. Being familiar with their vision and work for several years and having been collaborating with their office for a year and half does not prevent me from being struck each time I physically experience their architecture. In it, the body is continuously stimulated by the situations created around it and with it. I however already wrote many times about their work and dedicated one of the Funambulist Pamphlets (volume 08) to it, and I hope not to repeat myself in the following article. The main argument that I would like to establish through it, concerns the political interpretation of the body that this work provides.

On the contrary of many architectural and political discourses, Arakawa and Gins’s is constructed much less on what it claims to know, than on what it embraces to ignore. It appears more and more to me that all forms of corporeal violence (racism, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, etc.) can be said to be built upon a complete knowledge of what a body is. In other words, essentializing a race or a gender, whether to value it or denigrating it – it is ultimately the same thing – would constitute in saying “I know what a body is.” The architectural corollary of such an hypothesis is that an architecture designed through a specific (conscious or not) idea of what a body is – the standards set by Le Corbusier, Ernst Neufert or Henry Dreyfuss are only the most explicit visions of this idea – inevitably creates an appropriate environment for such corporeal violence to take place.

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06- Palestine

The eighth volume of The Funambulist Pamphlets that gathers and edits past articles (as well as additional illustrations) of the blog about the philosophical-poetic-artistic-architectural work of Arakawa, Madeline Gins and their Reversible Destiny Foundation is now officially published by Punctum Books in collaboration with the Center for Transformative Media at Parsons The New School. You can either download the book as a PDF for free or order it online for the price of $17.00 or €15.00. This price is higher than usual and we apologize for it, but this specific pamphlet required its illustrations to be in color, hence this punctual raise within the series. Click here to see the other volumes of The Funambulist Pamphlets.

Thank you to Eileen Joy, Anna Kłosowska, Ed Keller, Madeline Gins, Joke Post, Momoyo Homma, Sheung Tang Luk, Shingo Tsuji, Stanley Shostak, Russel Hughes, Hiroko Nakatani, and Esther Cheung

Official page of The Funambulist Pamphlets Volume 08: ARAKAWA + MADELINE GINS on Punctum Books’ website.

Our species has made a declaration. Let us call this the Reversible Destiny Declaration. We will not just take it anymore. We will no longer throw ourselves into the mortality waste-baskets. Shall we put it in the following gentle but firm way? Oh yes we shall! Enough is enough. We have decided not to die. And how do we go about doing this? Through architectural procedures, made explicitly to help us reconfigure ourselves. If you do not yet know what an architectural procedure is, you will know soon. Start with this declaration, and never back away from it: we have decided not to die. ~Madeline Gins

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madeline-gins1
Madeline Gins with Joke Post at the recent opening of the Biotopological Scale-Juggling Escalator on December 20, 2013 (photo by Momoyo Homma)

This is not an obituary.

Since yesterday morning Madeline Gins is no longer fighting against death; she finally embraced its entropic forces and her body will soon disperse in the “bioscleave,” a word Arakawa and her invented to describe the unfathomable forces at work in the material word. This platform is not an appropriate place for emotions, not even for those felt for a dear friend and inspirational mentor. This is why, I would rather celebrate the joy that was named Madeline Gins by, once again, writing about her work instead. Punctuating death is still to misinterpret it into an event; it was at work all-along, life — and what a life! — was the creativity resisting it.

Before exploring Gins’s writings, and since no poetic text — probably no text for that matter — could not possibly be considered the same way depending on the way it is read, I would like to give you the opportunity to hear her words through her voice directly as I recently recorded her, reading what she calls “the Reversible Destiny Declaration” :

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Reversible Destiny (Mitaka) Lofts – In Memory of Helen Keller /// Photograph by Shingo Tsuji (2013)

When I visited the Reversible Destiny Foundation‘s Mitaka Lofts (see previous article) in Tokyo last year, I encountered one of its resident, Shingo Tsuji, who is an also an architect (Chiasma Factory) and was kind enough to make me visit his apartment. Since then, we became friends, and I recently “curated” him a small reportage about the details of his life in this particular dwelling. I asked him to take some pictures of his apartment and point out a few significant details that are characteristic to his “reversible destiny” way of life. I feel very lucky as he not only did it with talent but also introduced those fragments of life within the context of Arakawa and Madeline Gins’ lifetime work as well as the various prejudices that often judge it. As you will see, the Reversible Destiny life is not as different as one might think it is from a more “traditional” way of life; nevertheless, the actual difference is crucial and definitely influence both the body and its behavior (mood, inspiration, aura etc.) as you will read along Shingo’s lines.

I take advantage of this post to add that the guest writers essays series will resume in a very near future and that Shingo will be part of the writers that we will be very lucky to be able to read.

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Architectural Body - arakawa ginsUbiquitous Site – Nagi Ryoanji by Arakawa + Gins (1994)

“If persons are sited, why do philosophers inquiring into what constitutes a person, or, for that matter, into the nature of mind, rarely, if ever, factor this in?”
“Philosophers considering persons as sites would be obliged to develop a person architectonics. They would, I am afraid, have to turn themselves into architects of sorts.” Page 5

Some of my readers are maybe surprised to see the editorial line of the blog shrinking day by day to something more and more (too?) precise. The reason for it is partially temporary as part of a strategy towards the completion of a project that I will be happy to unveil in the coming weeks. Until then, I would like to present one more article about the work of the Reversible Destiny Foundation (Arakawa + Madeline Gins) for a more acute understanding of their theoretical and design work (which are not really discernible one from another).

The title Architecture of the Conatus I chose in reference to their book Architectural Body (University of Alabama Press, 2002) is a direct reference to Spinozist philosophy (once again!) and can therefore be put in dialogue with the recent series of article dedicated to the latter. For Spinoza, each assemblage of substance i.e. body, “as far as it lies in itself, strives to persevere in its being” (Ethics, part 3, prop. 6). In other words, each thing will be continuously involved in a process of effort to keep the integrity of the material assemblage that constitutes it. Any animal (humans included), for example, will keep its body together as long as the latter is involved within the vital process. When this animal dies, however, its body will decompose and its matter will be reassembled in other bodies (soil etc.). Arakawa and Madeline Gins present a similar concept in their book, but before coming to that, I should probably introduce the latter.

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just rammed earthThe interior domestic terrain of the Bioscleave House by Arakawa + Gins

As I recently started a whole section of the blog’s archives dedicated to the work of Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins, I will be regularly writing new articles for it in order to present their radical architectural work in articulation with their lifework of poetical philosophy (or their philosophical poetry). A whole issue of the Canada based journal iNFLeXions (including a playful and beautiful digital interface) was recently dedicated to their work, thus giving access to about thirty texts written by various intellectual figures interested in the production of the Reversible Destiny Foundation. Among them, there is Stanley Shostak who is a professor in the Department of Biological sciences at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of two books about death and immortality at the biological level (Becoming Immortal, 2002 & The Evolution of Death, 2006). In his text, Bioscleave: Shaping our Biological Niches, he examines Arakawa and Gins’ manifesto ‘We Have Decided Not To Die” and one of its architectural embodiment, the Bioscleave House (see my own pictures of the house here and here) as a form of resistance against biopolitics (such a topic makes it compatible with Russel Hughes’s guest writer essay for The Funambulist).

Stanley Shostak, who is decided to consider Arakawa and Gins’ thesis with the scientific rigor that his background implies, starts his text with the process that the Bioscleave House should follow if it had to be recognized by the medical industry and its institutions (EMEA for Europe, FDA for the United States) as an operative drug to extend life expectancy. His narrative therefore involves various steps of experiments on bodies that would be subjected to a daily life in the house. The precise care put by Arakawa and Gins in the resolution of every architectural details as serving their manifesto (not only the terrain itself but also all the other creatures procedures involved, color, furnitures etc.), could then serve its purpose and be experimented as actually operative or not.

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Twice during the last year, I had the great chance to stay over in Reversible Destiny‘s architectures. Along with good friends, we spent the last few days of 2011 at the Bioscleave House in Long Island, and more recently stayed over at the Mitaka Lofts in Tokyo. This is one thing to visit those architectures during the day (see my previous experience at the Bioscleave House through the interview with Madeline Gins), this is another one to actually stay there and therefore confront their uniqueness to our sense of domesticity.

The atypical dwelling that surprises you and amazes you at first becomes a terrain of habits in a second phase. Your body does not need to find its right spot and position anymore, it knows the few places in which it can form an adequate Architectural Body. Climbing a small “hill” to go to the bathroom or to the kitchen when you just woke up puts you in an interesting state of cautious somnambulism. Paradoxically, vision becomes less important in your understanding of space; or rather vision does not register anymore in a hierarchical scheme in which it commands the rest of the body, it becomes an equal part of the sharp awareness of the environment your body builds little by little. Moving in these architectures becomes a dance; not a ballet, of course, but rather something along the lines of Pina Bausch in which stumbling is part of a harmonious movement celebrating the living. Your body is both fragile and strengthen when confronted to the risk it continuously needs to response to. An understanding is always (re)negotiated between this liberated matter and your body which, in this regard, is one step closer to fathom its own material properties.

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The following letter has been written by French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard to Arakawa and Madeline Gins in 1997. Their answer is readable in the fantastic book Reversible Destiny: We have decided not to Die published by the Guggenheim Museum in the same year.

Dear Friends,

Could one perhaps call your antidestiny architecture “antibiography”?
Would the distribution of time between beginning and end be neutralized?
Would the possibilities reserved for childhood remain open in every circumstance? Might they even multiply? Could the body be younger at sixty years of age than at fifteen?
The body would no longer inhabit a dwelling that grew old along with it. It would no longer inhabit a dwelling that grew old along with it. It would no longer be dedicated to adapting itself to constant volumes –a door here, a chair there, an ear here, a pair of knees there. Would it space begin anew each day?
Instantaneous habits would come and go. Affectionately, energetically. Would architecture summon energy and affection to inhabit the body?
Would it be futile to build concepts? Could one write or draw through encounters. Straight from nothingness?
The three children playing hide-and-seek in this house as I ask you these questions reverse the destinies of the beds, the tables, the rooms, ignoring the assigned purposes of each. Laughter, shouts, silence, vehemence, foot-stamping, breathlessness –is this, in fact, similar to the task your architecture expects of us, dear Madeline, dear Arakawa?

Jean-Francois Lyotard
January 1st 1997

Translated from the French, by Stephen Sartarelli.

Arakawa/Gins. Reversible Detiny.New York: Guggenheim Museum Publication 1997.

Other articles/essays about Arakawa/Gins’ work
Dislocative Architecture by Ed Keller
Architectures of Joy by myself

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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.

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Site of Reversible Destiny – Yoro Park by Arakawa & Madeline Gins


ARCHITECTURES OF JOY.

A spinozist reading of Parent/Virilio and Arakawa/Gins’ architecture
By Léopold Lambert (December 2010)

In the middle of the XVIIth century, Baruch Spinoza revolutionized theology by proposing a tremendous change in the definition of God. From the classic transcendental vision of a God creator, he introduced an immanent vision of God creature. Some architects might stop their reading of Spinoza’s Ethics here and consider the whole theory as an external element from their practice. However, this immanent theology envisions the world in such a way that architecture can creates itself based on this vision and celebrates it in composing what we will call, an architecture of joy. The first part of this short essay will attempt to concisely envision Spinoza’s Ethics, the second will present the difference between joyful affects and sad affects, and the third and last one will try to elaborate relationships between this philosophy and the architectural projects designed by Claude Parent and Paul Virilio in the 1960’s on the one hand, and those built by Arakawa and Madeline Gins in the last ten years on the other hand.

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