Yesterday I was having an epistolary exchange with my friend, Philippe Theophanidis about a few notions that are examined in his forthcoming text for the Funambulist Papers series. In his text, Philippe remarks that biopolitical systems are not only organizing and acting on the life of its subjects, it also involves what he calls “a work of death.” By this, he does not mean the same thing that what Michel Foucault designates as being the pre-modern paradigm (before the 18th century), in which a sovereign has the absolute power of life and death of his (her) subjects. Death in a biopolitical regime should be understood, not as an event, but rather as a continuous process. We can take Xavier Bichat‘s definition of life that I gave several times in my articles, “life is the set of functions that resists to death,” and conclude its implicit corollary: death is the continuous process that life needs to function against. In other words, death is an always active entropic operation on the totality of the bodies that composes the world.
Starting from this definition, we can understand that the speed of the process of death of our own body as an assemblage of multiple entities (see past article) can be influenced by external agents. It cannot be stop, and therefore there is no immortality possible as a definitive status; however, it can be decelerated as the work of Arakawa and Madeline Gins (see the fifteen articles already dedicated to their work) attempt to do through architecture. That is how I interpret how they call the action that they try to have each body accomplishing continuously: “not dying” i.e. resisting to death i.e. living. The state that we call “healthy” is not constituted by the absence of action of death, but rather by the active sync of our body’s biology with the one of its environment. As Georges Canguilhem says in the conclusion of The Normal and the Pathological (1966), “Man is healthy insofar as he is normative relative to the fluctuations of his milieu.”
Extracted from the Comic-strip Gaston Lagaffe by André Franquin
After having shared my experience of what a hypochondriac body might really be (see past article), I am now looking at another recurrent aspect of my own body: clumsiness! I am probably not the only one to regularly trip, make a (filled) glass fall on the table or bang my head into a low element; it seems therefore interesting to wonder what a clumsy body is really about.
Clumsiness is essentially occurring through a discrepancy of the understanding of the surrounding space by a given body, and the ‘actual’ layout of things. In other words, my body is aware that there is a glass on the table but its mapping of the position of the glass is sufficiently erroneous that I end up punching the glass that now pour its liquid on the totality of the table! It is well-known that the sense of vision, when not complemented by the other senses, can be deceitful as optical illusions reveal. A body that is not relating too much on its vision might be able to move confidently in the dark for example. We assumed to much that we know our sensory system and which organ is supposed to sense what. As presented by Hiroko Nakatani in her guest writer essay “Dissolving Minds and Bodies,” a device to apply on the tongue has been invented by neuroscientist Paul Bach-y-Rita, which allows blind people to have a spatial reading of their surrounding. The way animals like bats read their environment through waves of ultrasounds whose echo can allow a mapping of the limits of the space, is also extremely interesting in the variety of means through which a space and its elements can be understood by a body.
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.
Ubiquitous 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.
Architecture of the Sky (Milan Trade Fair Building by Massimiliano & Doriana Fuksas) versus Architecture of the Earth (Japanese playground photographed by Munemi Natsu)
This article will be somehow similar to the text Architectures of Joy I wrote in 2010 and to which I often referred this week; however, this time, I would like to oppose a Spinozist architecture to its antagonist. It is important to observe that attributing the status of ‘Spinozist’ to an architecture is a relatively artificial and subjective assignment as all architectures are, to some extents, celebrating the composition of material assemblages that will interact with the bodies they host. Nevertheless, just like I did for the cinema of Kurosawa yesterday, we can distinguish some architectures that express the essence of Spinoza’s philosophy with more intensity (another Spinozist term) than others. Moreover, some others seem to express an essence that can be interpreted as an opposition to such a philosophy. This antagonism is here gathered under the title Architecture of the Sky vs. Architecture of the Earth as a form of simplification of what opposes them. One could argue that the sky is fully part of Spinoza’s philosophy, at the same level than the ground itself; however, the sky has to be understood through two attributes here: a symbolic one that understands the sky in a theological way, and a “practical” one in the sense that what is called “architectures of the sky” here, would not challenge the body in a direct physical manner. We could therefore used two other antagonist notions to define this conflict: the transcendental. versus the immanent.
The 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.
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.
extracted from The Mechanisms of Meaning by Arakawa & Madeline Gins, New York: Abbeville Press, 1971.
Today’s guest writer is Russel Hughes who recently finished his dissertation, DIY Biopolitics: The Deregulated Self at the RMIT (Melbourne) and, while waiting for its publication, gives us one of its chapter. In the latter, he introduces a philosophical interpretation of the work of artists/poets/philosophers/architects Arakawa and Madeline Gins. Russel starts his analysis from the paintings created in the 1960′s and 1970′s in order to shift later to their architectural sequels.
Arakawa and Gins’ Reversible Destiny has been the subjects of many of the articles published on the funambulist for the last two years (and there is at least one more coming up); I therefore decided to dedicate to it a category by itself so that it could be explored by anybody curious about it in an interesting way through the archives of the blog: CATEGORY ARAKAWA/GINS
DIY Biopolitics: The Deregulated Self (excerpt of the upcoming book)
by Russell Hughes
The Reversible Destiny Foundation, created and sustained by Madeline Gins and Arakawa, has new online archives on which many of the concepts and projects they invented along the years are being explained and illustrated. As an introduction, I can maybe add the transcript of the interview (part A and part B) I had the luck to do with Madeline Gins about a year ago.
Those archives are very important as they allow to understand the level of engagement radical architecture requires to exist. Despite the condescending smiles I have seen on many faces when I evoke the work of Reversible Destiny, nobody can deny the consistent and passionate efforts that Madeline Gins and Arakawa have been producing for decades, dedicated as they were on a single question. A multitude of diagrams, drawings and texts (see also in their numerous books) analyze what they call the architectural body (the continuous construction of a relationship between a body and its direct material and immaterial surrounding). Such a passionate approach to architecture is exemplary and should be more common. This is not to say that architecture is a vocation to which some kind of transcendental force is leading us, but rather that pleasure and ethics should constitute the foundation of its practice. Architects should never be priests, tyrants or slaves, the representatives of the sad passions as Gilles Deleuze points out when he talks about Spinoza and Nietzsche. On the contrary, they should be the inventors of architectures of joy as I have been already writing about Arakawa and Gins’ work. Those archives are a good starting point to compose such an ethics.
Body Measurements by Henry Dreyfuss Associates. MIT Press, 1974.
A year ago, I wrote an article which was exploring how the modernist theories had implemented the ideology of what I called an ideal normative body. In a nutshell, this oxymoron expresses the paradox of the elaboration of a body that was supposed to represent a standard for all bodies but, by doing so, became idealized as no real body was, in fact, perfectly matching this standard. The following article therefore constitutes a visual and textual opposition between this ideal normatized body as drawn by Ernst Neufert, Le Corbusier and the Architectural Graphic Standards and its subversion within architectural projects.
The modernist project to establish a standard for the human body is not born in the 20th century. Renaissance was built around this notion of idealized proportions both for the body and architecture. In 1487, Leonardo da Vinci drew what remains one of the most famous drawings of Western Art: the Vitruvian Man. Many re-interpretations and parodies of this drawing have been created to address the question of standard since then. That is the case (see below) of Thomas Carpentier, whose thesis project L’homme, mesures de toutes choses at the Ecole Spéciale d’Architecture motivated the redaction of this article.
Arakawa + Gins, Bioscleave House (Lifespan Extending Villa),2004, photo: Léopold Lambert
Today, I release the second part of the conversation I have been recently having with Madeline Gins about the Reversible Destiny Foundation co founded with Arakawa. While the first part was more an epistolary assignment, this second part is a face to face conversation at the end of a day spent a the Bioscleave House (Lifespan Extending Villa) built three years ago in the Hamptons (Long Island). I, indeed, was lucky enough to experience the constant reconfiguration of the body in order to compose an harmonious relation with architecture. We can write dozens of pages about that, but nothing really expresses it as the feeling of experiencing it with your own body. What we usually wrongly dissociate as mind and body are here fully reconciled in both an awareness of each part of our body as much as the parts of architecture itself. This experience is truly what Arakawa and Madeline Gins conceptualized as the Architectural Body.
Once again I would like to thanks Madeline herself, Esther Cheung, Hiroko Nakatani and Maurizio Bianchi Mattioli.
Reversible Destiny: Architectures of Joy: A Conversation Between Two Puzzle Creatures [Part B] (read Part A)
3. Léopold Lambert: Let’s consider the place we are in: Bioscleave House–Lifespan Extending Villa. I don’t think that we should hold back from using the word playground when speaking of it. We should just attribute a particular meaning to this word, the same meaning I was getting at in my previous question (see the second question of part A).
Madeline Gins: The term life-invention playground comes to mind.
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.
Modernist Architecture is characterized by a thaumaturgic (talent of miraculously curing) ambition which would heal the “diseases” of individuals and society. Although this ambition appears as obsolete and slightly ridiculous nowadays, after several decades of post-modernism that constituted in denying any other power of architecture than a merely aesthetic one. However, my thesis, that I have been developing though a reasonable amount of articles on this blog, is that architecture does certainly own a power, but rather than the power of healing, it might rather be the power of hurting. (see weaponized architecture)
In this regard, what appear to be the quintessential example of a set of norms and a residue of the modern ideology are the overwhelming diagrams proposed by the fascinating Architectural Graphic Standards (cf introduction cover page). Indeed, following the modern dream of an optimized built environment, those architectural documents consider a normative body –one could think of Le Corbusier’s Modulor- and advocate for an architecture that is perfectly adapted to this same body. This normative body is not an ideal body in the classical meaning of it (mostly based on aesthetic values) but can be considered as such, as it does not represent anybody’s body but rather constitutes an unreachable state of normality.
As we saw with the work of Arakawa and Madeline Gins (see my essay Architectures of Joy) , architecture can be considered within the time frame of human evolution and, this way, be designed in order to influence such evolution. The normative body of those diagrams constitute the exact opposite of Arakawa/Gins’ work that attempts to activate bodies in order to resist death. In fact, the normative ideology by choosing an oxymoronic normal ideal body as a model, refuse the very idea of the human evolution. This denial organizes a violence effectuated on the body as it makes it interact with an environment that forces it to remain the same. Such a normative environment also implies a normative behavior that implies a set of pre-defined activities relatively to each space and furniture.
One can dream (I do !) of a re-interpretation of those diagrams subverted by various activities and bodies that were not thought about by those normative documents (the coitus seems to be a good way to start them for example !).
The following documents and the first image are all extracted from the Architectural Graphic Standards. Hoboken: Wiley, 2000.
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.
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?
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
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.
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.