# ARAKAWA/GINS /// Architecture of the Conatus: "Tentative Construting Towards a Holding in Place"


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.

Arakawa and Gins calls Architectural Body the composition of a living material assemblage constituted both by the human body itself and its direct environment. Just like for any body, such an assemblage does integrate movement of the matter within it (think of a human body’s biology for a simple example). The Architectural Body also involves the biological and other microscopic movements of its element’s matter; nevertheless, it adds to this microscopic scale, a macroscopic one in which the human body continuously composes material relations with its environment .

All excerpts are from the original version; however, since a (very good) French translation exists as well, I also included it at the end of this article.

Close observations have yet to be made of the effect of type of habitation on persons. Those who would minutely observe the effect of habitation on human beings must begin to discern how and why surroundings give or withhold from organisms of the type that can person the means to behave as persons. Even as the concept of person can stay put (everyone knows what a person is), it needs to be greatly dilated (particularly within a book entitled Architectural Body). We have adopted the admittedly clumsy term “organism that persons” because it portrays persons as being intermittent and transitory outcomes of coordinated forming rather than honest-togoodness entities; now that we have launched the term, we use the following less cumbersome terms synonymously with it: body, body-proper, human being, organism, organism-person, person. When studying what goes on between the bodyproper and its surroundings, it will be necessary to consider the extent to which persons are behavioral subsets of the organisms from which they emanate and out of which they compose themselves as agents of action. Page 2

A taking shape of surrounds and bodies and organisms and persons occurs intermixedly. Logic would want to get in there with a knife and cut them apart. Although we are utterly dependent on the force of logic prior to constructing the surrounds that will test our hypotheses, we will say no to logic and resist making incisions and separating the probably inseparable. All the linking and enclosing, an it (think of this as an autopoietic system if you like) that starts as enclosed and then goes about enclosing itself—all of that needs to be picked up as an organism-like whole, kicking and screaming, alive with process, emphatically, and urgently rushed into a supporting context of embedded procedures. Page 4

Going back to the notion of conatus, Arakawa and Gins introduce their concept of bioscleave, that can be interpreted as the Spinozist notion of substance, as the universal (theological for Spinoza) ensemble of matter and its internal energy. Rather than the Spinozist necessary perfection of the substance, Madeline Gins and Arakawa talk about the balance of the bioscleave without which, no vitality can be developed.

Bioscleave—people breathe it, it sustains them—has parts and elements, many of which exhibit an order, even as it presents itself as an enormously confused mass with operative factors that cannot be distinguished. Who moves through this mass of chaos, this massive mix of order and chaos, has sited awareness buried there within it. Page 51

Start by thinking of architecture as a tentative constructing toward a holding in place. Architecture’s holding in place occurs within and as part of a prevailing atmospheric condition that others routinely call biosphere but which we, feeling the need to stress its dynamic nature, have renamed bioscleave.
All species belonging to bioscleave exist only tentatively (which remains true whatever turns out to be the truth about natural selection, whether it happens randomly or with directionality), with some species, all things being unequal, existing on a far more tentative basis than others. Additionally, bioscleave stays breathable and in the picture only so long as elements take hold of each other in particular ways, only so long as there can be a cleaving of a this to a that and a cleaving of a this off of a that. So that there might be new and different link-ups, fresh points of departure, ever renewed tentative constructing toward a holding in place, a firm and definite taking hold, which gives one sense of the term to cleave, must also readily entail cutting apart, cut-off, relinquishment, the other sense of the term. Should a crucial element fail to hold its own, bioscleave would go missing, collapsing into untempered atmosphere, leaving (but no one would be there to tell) an uninhabitable planet in its wake. A single missing element (carbon or oxygen) or an aberrant formation of a molecule, to say nothing of a large-scale cataclysmic event, could make bioscleave vanish, bringing an abrupt end to millennia of tentative constructing toward a holding in place. Page 48

The last excerpt introduced the peculiar notion of tentative constructing toward a holding in place (very close from the Spinozist definition of the conatus) or its beautifully translated version into French, construction tâtonnante en vue d’un maintien en place. I am giving the translation on purpose as the word “tâtonnante“, used by Monique Chassagnol (the book translator) transcripts, in my opinion, an even more expressive meaning of the Architectural Body than the English word tentative used by the authors. Tatonner in French incorporates the notion of tentative but adds to it, the idea of groping, a highly corporal idea. One might remember Madeline Gins’  book Helen Keller or Arakawa (Santa Fe: Burning Books, 1994) including the famous deafblind author in their discourse. This makes a lot of sense as the Architectural Body involves only a limited visual and auditive characteristics compared to its hyper-tactility. One of the first experience I did, the first time I visited the Bioscleave House in October 2011, was to used a blind cane and go around the house central terrain while closing my eyes. It becomes then easy to understand how one could acquire more and more ease experiencing the terrain “only” (but there is no “only” here) with one’s feet. By doing so, one composes a more balanced architectural body.

Staying current with bioscleave, remaining alive as part of it, involves keeping pace with the tentativeness it brings to bear, staying focused on the elusiveness as such of this tenuous event-fabric or event-matrix. Everything is tentative, but some things or events have a tentativeness with a faster-running clock than others. So that there can at least be a keeping pace with bioscleave’s tentativeness, it becomes necessary to divine how best to join events into an event-fabric, which surely involves learning to vary the speed at which one fabricates tentative constructings toward holding in place.

Architecture occurs as one of many ways life sees fit to conduct and construct itself, a form of life, and all forms of life have, without doubt, as of this date, but a limited and uncertain existence. Even so, thus far only nomads have held architecture to be as a matter of course tentative.

Life—Bios—would seem to be constituted by interactions between tentative constructings toward a holding in place, with the body, the body-in-action, surely the main fiddler at the fair. Bodily movements that take place within and happen in relation to works of architecture, architectural surrounds, are to some extent formative of them. Those living within and reading and making what they can of an architectural surround are instrumental in and crucial to its tentative constructing toward a holding in place. We do not mean to suggest that architecture exists only for the one who beholds or inhabits it, but rather that the body-in-action and the architectural surround should not be defined apart from each other, or apart from bioscleave. Pages 49-50

To finish this long article (I apologize that I could not reduce the excerpts to their very essence), I would like to introduce a last excerpt in which Madeline Gins and Arakawa are directly addressing the reader asking her/him to realize a small assignment that can work in any space (s)he reads the book. They go as far as making this same reader actively enter the narrative as (s)he speaks in the text. The assignment consists in rotating of 10 degrees the entirety of the room (s)he is currently in to increase her/his awareness of the physical space surrounding her/him. The extreme manifestation of such an imaginative space can be found in Ubiquitous Site – Nagi Ryoanji, built in 1994 in Japan, which concretize the same assignment, except that it is no more 10 degrees of inclination but the infinity of degrees betwee 0 and 360 as the floor is cylindrical (see photo above).

Contribute your room, your architectural surround of the moment, to this text. For your room to be of use in what follows, it needs to be transformed into a work of procedural architecture. Note where in the room you are and the direction in which you are facing. To have this room—the room in which you happen to be reading this—stand out distinctly as the room it is, select and keep vivid a representative group of its features. Now take the room and give its floor a ten-degree tilt along its longest length (if the room is square, either side is fine). Make a double of your room thus tilted and place it next to the original. Seesaw the floor of the double so that it ends up tilting in the opposite direction.
ARCHITECT: We have now been in both rooms. It is apparent that the two together frame the impact on us of an architectural surround, that is, of the room in which you are reading this text.
READER: I lean differently into the situation of exactly this room within each of its exemplars.
ARCHITECT: Perfect. Page 45

Translated Excerpts into French by Monique Chassagnol in Arakawa & Madeline Gins, Le Corps Architectural, Paris: Manucius, 2005.

«Pourquoi les philosophes qui cherchent à comprendre la nature de la personne ou même celle de l’esprit, ne prennent-ils Presque jamais en considération le fait que les personnes sont situées ?»
« Ils se trouveraient dans l’obligation de développer une architectonique de la personne. Ils devraient, je le crains, devenir en quelque sorte architectes. » P35

L’effet de l’habitat sur la personne demeure mal connu faute d’être observe de près. Quiconque décide d’entreprendre cette étude doit analyser pourquoi et comment l’environnement donne ou non aux organismes susceptibles de personner les moyens de le faire. Même si le concept de personne peut demeurer établi (chacun sait ce qu’est une personne) il a besoin d’être considérablement élargi, en particulier dans un livre intitule Le corps Architectural. Nous avons adopté l’expression – maladroite, reconnaissons-le – : « organisme qui personne » parce qu’elle définit les personnes comme résultats intermittents et provisoires de processus de formations coordonnées bien plus que comme véritable entités. Maintenant que nous avons créé cette expression, nous pouvons utiliser des expressions synonymes moins lourdes : corps, corps propre, être humain, organisme, organisme-personne, personne. Dans l’étude de la relation entre le corps propre et son environnement, il sera indispensable de voir dans quelle mesure les personnes sont des sous-ensembles comportementaux des organismes dont elles émanent et à partir desquels elles se construisent pour devenir des agents. P32

Environnement, corps et organismes prennent forme ensemble, en même temps. La logique voudrait pouvoir les dissocier, les détacher au couteau. Bien que totalement dépendants du pouvoir de la logique pour construire des espaces ou tester nos hypothèses, nous prenons le parti de refuser la logique et nous résistons a la tentation d’inciser et de séparer ce qui est probablement inséparable. Tout ce processus d’attache et de clôture, un « ceci » (vous pouvez, si bon vous semble, le considérer comme un système autopoiétique) qui commence clôture et va en se clôturant, tout cela doit être pris comme un tout, une forme d’organisme, qui s’agite, gigote et crie, vivant, mouvant, vigoureux, emporte, précipite dans le cadre solide de procédures d’enchâssement. P33

Le biosclive – on le respire, il nous fait vivre – est constitué de parties et d’éléments, la majorité d’entre eux étant agencés selon un ordre donne, même s’il se présente comme une masse extrêmement confuse dont les constituants actifs sont indiscernables. Quiconque évolue au sein de cette masse chaotique, de ce mélange d’ordre et de désordre, y découvre de la conscience située.

Commencer par considérer l’architecture comme construction tâtonnante en vue d’un maintien en place (a tentative constructing toward a holding in place). Ce maintien en place qu’opère l’architecture relève de conditions atmosphériques dominantes que l’on appelle d’ordinaire la biosphère mais que nous, qui ressentons le besoin de souligner son caractère dynamique, appelons biosclive (bioscleave). P76

Toutes les espèces appartenant au biosclive ont une existence incertaine, quelle que soit la conception qu’on tienne pour vraie en matière de sélection naturelle, qu’elle s’effectue au hasard ou non, certaines espèces, toutes choses égales d’ailleurs, existant sur un mode bien plus incertain que d’autres. En outre, le biosclive demeure respirable et présent dans le tableau uniquement tant que les éléments entrent en contact les uns avec les autres de façon spécifique, uniquement tant qu’est possible une adhésion d’un ceci a un cela et une séparation d’un ceci d’un cela. SI bien qu’il pourrait y avoir des associations nouvelles et différentes, de nouveaux points de départ, une construction tâtonnante en vue d’un maintien en place, une adhésion ferme et définitive, mais aussi séparation, division désunion. S’il arrivait qu’un élément essentiel vienne à manquer ou ne joue pas son rôle, le biosclive serait défaillant, s’abimerait dans le chaos de l’atmosphère, laissant dans son sillage (mais il ne resterait alors plus personne pour en parler) une planète inhabitable. Un seul élément manquant (gaz carbonique ou oxygène) ou la formation anormale d’une molécule, sans parler d’un cataclysme a grand échelle, pourrait entrainer la disparition du biosclive et mettre un terme à des millénaires de construction tâtonnante en vue d’un maintien en place.  P73

Etre partie inhérente du biosclive, vivre à travers lui, signifie demeurer en phase avec le tâtonnement qu’il effectue, rester focalisé sur la nature insaisissable et tenue de ce tissu, de cette matrice, d’évènements ont un rythme plus rapide que d’autres. Afin de suivre le rythme (du tâtonnement) du biosclive, il devient nécessaire de prévoir comment lier au mieux les évènements entre eux, en tisser une trame, ce qui sans doute signifie apprendre à varier la vitesse à laquelle on effectue des constructions tâtonnantes en vue d’un maintien en place.

L’architecture opère comme l’une des manières que la vie considère adéquates, de se conduire et de construire. C’est une forme de vie, et il est certain que toutes les formes de vie ont, du moins à ce jour, une existence limitée et incertaine. Néanmoins, jusqu’ici seuls les nomades ont considéré l’architecture comme incontestablement provisoire.

La vie – bios – semblerait constituée d’interactions entre ces constructions tâtonnantes en vue d’un maintien en place et c’est le corps, le corps-en-action, qui joue sans aucun doute le rôle de chef d’orchestre. Les mouvements corporels qui ont lieu au sein du monde bâti et de l’environnement architectural, contribuent en quelque sorte à leur formation et sont en relation avec eux. Ceux qui vivent dans l’environnement architectural l’interprètent et s’y adaptent comme ils peuvent, contribuant ainsi de manière décisive à cette construction tâtonnante en vue d’un maintien en place. Nous ne voulons pas dire que l’architecture existe seulement pour celui qui la regarde ou l’habite, mais plutôt que le corps-en-action et l’environnement architectural ne devraient pas être envisages séparément, ni séparés du biosclive. P74

Faites participer votre pièce, votre milieu architectural du moment, a ce texte. Pour que votre pièce soit utilisable dans ce qui suit, elle a besoin d’être transformée en un ouvrage d’architecture procédurale. Noter l’endroit de la pièce ou vous vous trouver et la direction dans laquelle vous regardez. Pour que cette pièce – la pièce ou vous lisez en ce moment ce livre – se révèle clairement en tant que ce qu’elle est, sélectionnez et gardez a l’esprit un ensemble représentatif de ses caractéristiques. Prenez maintenant la pièce et faites pivoter le sol de 10° sur sa plus grande longueur (sur n’importe quel cote si la pièce est carrée). Faites un double de cette pièce inclinée de la sorte et placez-la à cote de l’original. Faites basculer le plancher du double de façon à ce qu’il finisse par s’incliner dans la direction opposée.
ARCHITECTE : Maintenant nous sommes allés dans les deux pièces. Il apparait que les deux, mises ensemble, constituent l’impact qu’a sur nous un environnement architectural, c’est-à-dire la pièce dans laquelle vous êtes en train de lire ce livre.
LECTEUR : J’appréhende différemment l’inclinaison de cette même pièce dans chacune de ses deux représentations.
ARCHITECTE : C’est parfait. P70