— SUPER ROOM

LANDSCAPE

Super Dakota is delighted to present “Landscape”, a Super Room dedicated to the Japanese artist Shūsaku Arakawa which will be on view until 15th May, 2021. Born in 1936 in Nagoya, Arakawa studied biology, biochemistry, and classical painting in school. Encouraged to attend classes in mathematics and medicine at the University of Tokyo, he instead studied drawing at the Musashino Art University before dropping out and engaging private tutors. He became fascinated by Edgar Allan Poe’s Eureka and obsessed with the work of Leonardo da Vinci at a young age, which will have a significant impact on his choice of career.  

Site of Reversible Destiny—Yoro, Elliptical Field, 1995.

The influence of European modernism was still dominant in Japan, and Arakawa’s use of materials unusual in that context, demonstrated in works he showed in the annual Yomiuri Independent Exhibition (a major event for postwar Japanese avant-garde art) in 1957 and again in 1958, made him scandalous by the age of twenty. Arakawa was one of the founding members of the Japanese avant-garde collective Neo Dadaism Organizers, describing himself as an “eternal outsider” and an “abstractionist of the distant future.” (1)

Neo-dadaist organisers at Ginza Tokyo, 1960. Arakawa fourth from the left holding umbrella. Next image: Neo-dadaist poster.

As Ealan Wingate, Director at Gagosian gallery recalls, “the story of Arakawa begins when he had arrived in New York in 1961, with $14 in his pocket” and got in contact with Marcel Duchamp. Arakawa crossed paths with many other central figures in the downtown New York of the time. For example, he met John Cage and also came to know Yoko Ono, whose loft on Chambers Street would become his home and studio. In 1962 Arakawa met American poet Madeline Gins. Since then, they worked together on a series of paintings and writings, which they called “The Mechanism of Meaning”. The series addressed ways of constructing meaning throught structures of perception and they intestigated howart and thought filtered through experience, began to define each other.

All artworks © 2019 Estate of Madeline Gins. Reproduced with permission of the Estate of Madeline Gins; video: Pushpin Films; Arakawa: "Diagrams for the Imagination", Gagosian, New York, March 5–April 13, 2019.

"Landscape", 1969

Landscape”, 1969, much like Arakawa’s diagram paintings, which he made between 1965 and 1984, operates on a “visual-mental-perceptual level”. The work stretches the very idea of meaning, by amplifying the possibilities of perception. Here, Arakawa’s canvas is built on the use of the language with its own world. It creates an additional layer, a portal in which abstract landscape can re-appear beyond or over that of the controlling sentences appearing on the face of the canvases. 

Shūsaku Arakawa
Landscape, 1969
Acrylic, felt tip pen and pencil on canvas
122 x 182.5 cm
48 x 71 7/8 in

In "Landscape", 1969, the artist duplicated the label, found on the bottom right side of the canvas, and placed it in the center of the painting. The information written on this label, which identifies the object of the painting “title, name of the artist, and date of creation”, is now replaced by scribblings made out of colorful felt tip pen and pencils. These drawings serve as indications of their content. A possible landscape, or even multiple ones, which the viewer can visualize directly in their minds rather than having it depicted for them. The painting becomes a visual/verbal map, representative of the artist’s ongoing studies around the construction of meaning.

“WHAT I WANT TO PAINT IS THE CONDITION THAT PRECEDES THE MOMENT IN WHICH THE IMAGINATION GOES TO WORK AND PRODUCES MENTAL REPRESENTATIONS.”

- Arakawa

Installation view, Arakawa: "Diagrams for the Imagination", 2019, Gagosian, New York. Artwork © 2019 Estate of Madeline Gins. Reproduced with permission of the Estate of Madeline Gins. Photo: Rob McKeever

Arakawa, and conceptual artists contemporary to his practice were focusing on the process and the ideas that would lead to the finished work of art. All the operations done before the work are just as important, if not more important, then the final work itself. Following Sol LeWitt’s sentences on conceptual art, we begin to understand the mystic character of conceptual artworks, which believe in exploring ideas that cannot be limited by logic. These thoughts allow us to reflect upon our physical and spiritual orientation towards the world. Looked from this angle, “Landscape”, 1969, could bring the mind into a state of contemplation and comprehension.

Installation view of Lawrence Weiner: "ON VIEW", Regen Projects, Los Angeles, 2020

Eva Hesse, "Repetition Number Nineteen III", 1968

“Arakawa’s multi-discursive and multimedia works are always in a “tentative relationship with their surroundings” and therefore “part of a collective project,” as opposed to participating in any sort of “romantic exceptionalism.” Hence we can associate him with artists and poets including Lawrence Weiner, Douglas Huebler, Mel Bochner, Cy Twombly, Hannah Weiner, and can address his affinity with Richard Foreman, Ron Silliman, Joseph Kosuth, Eva Hesse, Leslie Scalapino. Arakawa's body of work also connects to the great lineage stretching from Stéphane Mallarmé through Duchamp, Cage, William Carlos Williams, and Charles Olson.” (2)

Installation view, Arakawa: "Diagrams for the Imagination", 2019, Gagosian, New York. Artwork © 2019 Estate of Madeline Gins. Reproduced with permission of the Estate of Madeline Gins. Photo: Rob McKeever

Arakawa and Madeline were also surrounded by the growing community of philosophers. Jean-François Lyotard, a thinker on time and technology and the author of The Postmodern Condition (1979), who wrote on Arakawa’s practice and whose technological, informational, and learning-exchange research had affinities with the artist’s thoughts. Arakawa was also often discussing the work of Félix Guattari with Gilles Deleuze. Over the decades that followed, Arakawa explored the workings of human consciousness, diagrammatic representation, and epistemology. (3)

Shūsaku Arakawa
Bonjour Picasso (From Hommage à Picasso), 1973
Colour silkscreen on Véritable Papier d’Arches satiné (blind stamp)
Image: 53.5 x 76.5 cm
Sheet: 57 x 76.5 cm
Edition of 64/90

This colorful print features a handwritten letter to Picasso created in the occasion of the cubist painter’s 90th birthday. To celebrate this date, Berlin-based publishing house Propyläen Verlag issued between 1973-75 a collection of prints produced by several contemporary artists. This work was part of Volume 2 out of 5, which featured works by Jean Tinguely, Niki de Saint Phalle, Heinz Mack, R. B.Kitaj, Richard Hamilton, David Hockney, Cy Twombly, Enrico Baj, Nicholas Krushenick, Shusaku Arakawa, Hans Bellmer and Jan Voss. (4) Arakawa’s letter reads in colorful and strikethrough handwriting “Dear Picasso, Hello, how are you? How is the family? … nightmare of history … Kiss me Quick and Write Me Soon. Love” followed by his signature and on the bottom, in blocked typed letters, reads the following: “WHEN “ALWAYS AND NOT” SIGNIFIES SOMETHING, “THE SIGNIFIED OR “IF” BELONGS TO THE ZERO SET. HAVE WE MET BEFORE”.

Gustave Courbet, "The Artist's Studio", 1844-1855.

All the writing is juxtaposed on a black and white upside-down version of Gustave Coubert’s “The Artist's Studio, a real allegory summing up seven years of my artistic and moral life" (1854-1855), an iconic painting which depicts the artist's role in society.

In his print, Arakawa chose to reverse the original work which features a painter and his muse surrounded by the crowd of viewers, having their gaze focused on the Courbet while he depicts ideal scenery of landscape. In its meaning, Courbet's vision of natural sceneries revolves in Arakawa's conceptual representations of the space, land, architecture and writing — resulting in engagement "with the surrounding, the social, with its participants, and a large matrix of other minds."(4)

Installation view, Arakawa: "Six Paintings", 2017, Gagosian, New York. Artworks © 2017 Estate of Madeline Gins. Reproduced with permission of the Estate of Madeline Gins. Photo: Rob McKeever.

“WHAT COMES TO MIND WHEN I LOOK AT ONE OF ARAKAWA'S PAINTINGS? THE MIND ITSELF. THE MIND TAKES THE FORM OF MANY FORMS, BUT NOT ALL FORMS FIT IT.”

- Italo Calvino

Shūsaku Arakawa
No! says the room, 1972
Color Lithograph
25,5 x 39 cm
Edition of 109/110

In this print, Arakawa continues intertwining semantic materials alongside architectonic compositions. We can observe the sleek lines of architectural skelets on the lower left reminding us the city’s skyscrapers. These are transcended with a greyish splash of color extending on the top of them. Following arrow re-directs the movement inside the work and points out towards the hand-written sentence: “NO!” says the room. Here, Arakawa’s work reveals the mind as a sentient organ capable of its own sophistications and dissatisfactions. That thoughts like these can themselves become embodied on a surface of the work. In the last phrase: “When “always and not” signifies something “the signified or if” belongs to the zero set!! Have we met before?”, mystifying feels very familiar – it seems like we’ve met before indeed. These words are actually recurrent, they appear in other works from the artist, sometimes identically written or fragmented, as the title of a series of paintings: ”The Signified or If”.

Jean-François Lyotard has said of Arakawa’s work that it “makes us think through the eyes,” transforming “the usual constancies of orientation into a strange, enticing game—a game of continually thinking out.” In a 1988 interview, Arakawa spoke of the relationship of image and text in his work, saying: “The language has its own world, the picture its—the gap, that is where I want to play. When the gap is enormous, the title takes on a greater importance. The title is, of course, an additional layer of language beyond or over that of the controlling sentences appearing on the face of the canvas.” (5)

"Bioscleave House (Lifespan Extending Villa)”, 2008, East Hamptons, New York. Architectural Digest. Photo: Brown Harris Stevens.

Together with his wife, Madeline Gins, Arakawa designed and constructed several unconventional houses or vilas which broke through many boundaries: not just of art, but architecture, philosophy, phenomenology, biology, domesticity, cognitive theory, and probably a dozen other realms still to be named.

“Bioscleave House (Lifespan Extending Villa)”, 2008 operates with the “tentative” on a full-body, immersive scale. The house was designed to rejuvenate the sensory system and reverse the aging process. It is located in East Hampton is one of the vacation spots on the island. “Bios” is the prefix that refers to life, and “cleave” has two contradictory meanings: one is to sever, and the other is to join.(6)

Constructed in 2005 “The Reversible Destiny” Lofts in Mitaka, Japan, are residence consisting of the nine-unit building. It has undulating floors and rounded walls that are designed to engage the body, promote exercise and halt the aging process.

Arakawa and Madeline Gins at 124 West Houston Street, New York, 2007.

Perspectival view showing entrance to "Bridge of Reversible", 1989.

Yoro Park: "The Site Of Reversible Destiny", 1995, Yoro, Gifu Prefecture, Japan. Photographs: © Arakawa & Gins.

Opened in 1995, “The Site of Reversible Destiny” is an “experience park”. The theme of the park is “encountering the unexpected,” spreading across about 18,000 square meters. Arakawa and Madeline realized their bold and reckless 30-year vision consisting of a main pavilion called the “Critical Resemblance House” and the vast bowl-like “Elliptical Field.” The park presents itself to the visitor as a carefully considered construction of undulating planes, shifting colors, and disorienting spaces, thus providing a place of purposeful experimentation. Visitors are challenged “to rethink their physical and spiritual orientation to the world,” and while walking in the Elliptical Field, “instead of being fearful of losing your balance, look forward to it (as a desirable re-ordering of the landing sites, formerly known as the senses),” according to Arakawa’s “Directions for Use” on Yoro Park’s official site. (7)

"Reversible Destiny Lofts" by The Daily 360 | The New York Times, 2017.

Reversible Destiny was also the name of their philosophical premise, which attempted to demonstrate how to “learn how not to die”. This statement or proposition believes that architectural forms have such a direct impact on human life that their works could literally promote longevity for those who dwell in them. On the contrary of what we might think, according to their theory, living too comfortably was not ideal to the human condition. To live longer, one should constantly challenge the mind and body, as a way to transform the relationship between mind, body and environment.

Madeline Gins, "Biotopological Scale-Juggling Escalator", Dover Street Market, New York.

One of the most recent architectural projects include Biotopological Scale-Juggling Escalator”, 2013. “Installed at Dover Street Market in New York, the Escalator is a staircase inside a purple shaft. A bumpy, irregular floor rises alongside stairs of even height, if uneven color. In what seems a victory of accessibility standards, given the lack of supports proffered in other works of procedural architecture, handrails resembling veins guide shoppers through the structure. Models of rooms from the East Hampton house line the staircase, each with a tiny figure inset, as a sort of advertisement for reversible destiny.” (8)

Shūsaku Arakawa at 124 West Houston Street, New York, 1980.

“PART OF DOING IS ALWAYS BLANK. EVEN THESE STATES ACTIONS OR WHICH LEAD US MOVE BLANKLY. THESE ARE COMMONLY CALLED FEELING AND THINKING. AS WELL AS PROVIDING A PLACE FOR A “FORMING BLANK”, THESE CONFIGURATIONS OF ENERGY THEMSELVES MOVE THROUGH BLANK TO MAKE VARYING DEGREES OF AWARENESS OR SOMETIMES TO REMAIN IN IT, COMPLETELY BLANK.”

”To not to Die”, Arakawa/Madeline Gins, 1979

Notes:

Headline image: The back of the “Bioscleave House”, with windows placed in purposefully disorienting spots. The only residential project Arakawa and Gins completed in the United States, it has never been occupied full time. Photography: © Matt Harrington. Courtesy of “T The New York Times Style Magazine”.

(1) Mary Ann Caws, “Loosing Nothing: Arakawa and Madeline Gins”, 2018. Gagosian Quarterly Online, https://gagosian.com/quarterly/2019/01/24/essay-losing-nothing-arakawa-madeline-gins/.

(2, 3) Arakawa: “Six Paintings”, 2017. Gagosian, New York. Online.

(4) MoMA, online, https://www.moma.org/collection/works/portfolios/60201?=undefined&page=2&direction=fwd.

(6) SHUSAKU ARAKAWA: TRANS JAPAN, CIS JAPAN, PUBLISHED ARTICLE BY SHIN-ICHI FUKUOKA, FEBRUARY, 2016, Reversible Destiny Foundation, online. 

(7) ARCHEYES, Timeless Architecture, Online, https://archeyes.com/reversible-destiny-arakawa-gins/.

(8) Matthew Shen Goodman, “We have decided not to die”, 2018, Artnews