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REVERSE YOUR DESTINY: ARAKAWA & GINS

1960's New York husband-and-wife artist duo Madeline Gins and Arakawa truly transformed the way in which to view existence with an avant-garde approach to immortality through architecture and art. Across the country of Japan and the state of New York, one may find many of their physical sites and remaining installations: structures intended to prolong living through challenging the body and mind, and essentially, reverse your destiny. 

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Reversible Destiny Office, Insect Mountain Range, Site of Reversible Destiny, Yoro Park, Gifu, Japan


 

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Reversible Destiny Office, Site of Reversible Destiny, Yoro Park, Gifu, Japan

We have decided not to die.
There is no better way to introduce the legacy of Arakawa and Gins than with this proclamation that they coined during their life’s pursuit of their intellectually rigorous work. It’s a mantra that stands true to this artistic couple’s death-defying mentality and conscious awareness, questioning the idea of what it means to challenge our comfort levels and to treat our bodies as architecture for our knowledge-hungry minds. 
Arakawa, who dropped his first name of Shusaku, was born in Nagoya, Japan in 1936 and briefly attended the Musashino Art University in Tokyo. Arakawa later became one of the founding members of Neo Dada, a Japanese avant-garde collective, and was one of the earliest practitioners of the international conceptual-art movement of the 1960s. Over in New York, Madeline Gins was born in 1941 and, after graduating from Barnard College in 1962, began focusing on experimental fiction and poetry. In the same year, they met, developing a personal and creative partnership. Together, they began their first pursuit entitled The Mechanism of Meaning, which expanded Arakawa’s painting practice and Gins’s writing into a series that sought to push the possibilities of art and language. 





 

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Elliptical Field; Trajectory Membrane Gate, Kinesthetic Pass, Cleaving Hall, Destiny House, Site of Reversible Destiny, Yoro Park, Gifu, Japan

 

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Exactitude Ridge, Site of Reversible Destiny, Yoro Park, Gifu, Japan



 

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Kinesthetic Pass, Site of Reversible Destiny, Yoro Park, Gifu, Japan


Arakawa and Gins and the pursuit of their lifestyle-like work is something that is only beginning to gain notoriety as their permanent installations are discovered by the throngs of color seekers and art fans alike. If you have been to Japan, it is very unlikely that you may have come across some of their existing architecture unless you were truly seeking it out from a travel tip, whether it be the Mitaka Lofts in Tokyo designed in memory of Helen Keller, or their “Ubiquitous Site” at NagiMOCA in Okayama Prefecture, which beckons those who want “to be prepared for events one billion years from now” to enter through their drum-like tunnel, or most famously their Reversible Destiny Park in the mountains of Yoro, Gifu. The same goes for New York, the city they resided in and where the Reversible Destiny Foundation still maintains their archives, where a tunnel situated within Dover Street Market becomes a refuge for shoppers as they navigate between floors, and also where their Bioscleave House exists as a private commission in East Hampton where the owners can live out their days becoming one with architecture.
Arakawa and Gins treated much of their work from a performative perspective — I doubt that they wanted their work to be observed from the confines of a pane of glass or tucked away in the archives of a stuffy gallery. As true life-defying junkies, their work was defined with extensive direction and instruction; those daring enough (or perhaps simply uninspired enough) to indulge in their confounding architecture were instructed with a set of rules or guidelines to navigate their atmospheric spaces.


 

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Exactitude Ridge, Site of Reversible Destiny, Yoro Park, Gifu,
















 

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Exactitude Ridge, Site of Reversible Destiny, Yoro Park, Gifu, Japan

While meaning is subjective, Arakawa and Gins give you prompts — alternative methods of inspiration — to define the meaning of what you’re meant to interact with, and that is the beauty of what they create. Meaning becomes interactional, and is determined by your own exploration and the provocation of rules and restrictions set in place, often requiring our own bodies and brains to cause alternative reactions. And with these prompts, their goal was to restructure your interactivity with the world. Think of it as a rewiring of the brain — classically, we are taught that the sky is blue and the grass is green. It is unlikely that we will learn otherwise, yet the role of an artist like Arakawa and Gins can instruct us to believe that the sky is green and the grass is blue. In truly artistic behavior, we are encouraged to create alternative meaning and forgo factual and scientific proof in favor of our own dreams and desires. 

In reversing our destinies, we are reprioritizing the way in which we correlate our physical interactions with the world. Our conceptual understanding of the spaces we reside in is forever adjusted, forcing us to never take things for granted and to constantly give new meaning to the mundane of our day-to-day lives.  

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Critical Resemblance House, Site of Reversible Destiny, Yoro Park, Gifu, Japan

As someone who has visited every accessible and remaining site of Arakawa and Gins’ work, I can say that it truly does confound the way in which we perceive space and, quite possibly, reality. A bathtub intersected by a wall begs the question — is it still a bathtub? Is it still functional despite its bisected state, and is it the same fixture we previously took for granted? Physical contradictions become introduced to their spaces. When interacting with these reversible destiny constructs, nothing is taken for granted. We cannot sublimely walk with our eyes glued to our phones assuming that a wall is a wall or a floor is a floor, though A+G developed this concept long before doom scrolling zombies were truly conceived. In their spaces, the body and brain are equally affected and are forced to break from their habitual expectations. Expectations are a figment of your imagination, and a sense of comfort is something that is won after hours, days, if not months of hard work, rather than the typical receipt upon arrival.

Their use of color in their spaces is something that has drawn consistent attention, and surely you’ve seen the now iconic Reversible Destiny Office protruding from the Yoro Mountains in its saccharine colors and sun-drenched hues, or the nine-unit Mitaka Lofts construct; an engineering feat in itself rendered from spheres, cubes, and tubes. Their use of color invites an optimistic approach, encouraging its visitors and residents to continue living for an indefinitely long period of time by never taking white blank walls for granted. This is what “reversible destiny” is all about. For all that are willing to listen, Arakawa and Gins’ Reversible Destiny mentality aims to make our lives a little more youthful by encouraging us to reevaluate our relationship with architecture.  

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Reversible Destiny Office, Site of Reversible Destiny, Yoro Park, Gifu, Japan

 

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Kinesthetic Pass, Site of Reversible Destiny, Yoro Park, Gifu, Japan


 

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Kinesthetic Pass, Site of Reversible Destiny, Yoro Park, Gifu, Japan

Sites of reversible destiny do not alter your daily functions and contradict biology—we still eat, excrete, we perceive and interact. We must stand and walk, yet these sites cause us to stand and walk differently. We must concentrate on these otherwise monotonous tasks because their architecture forces us to do so. If you are to walk on a floor, then it is a floor that is riddled with bumps and dips and uneven leveling. It will become the most memorable floor that you have ever walked upon, and it will forever change the way you navigate a space. If you are to use a toilet, well, it’s about time you felt comfortable relieving yourself in the proximity of your dearest friends, because that toilet sits back to back with another. 
The idea of reversible destiny, in its most extreme form, eliminates death. The intention of “reversible destiny” is not to prolong death, postpone it, grow older alongside it, but to entirely not acknowledge and surpass it. To Arakawa and Gins, death is an insult to their vitality. And that’s why, despite them now both having passed (Arakawa died in 2010 at age 73, and Gins four years later, at the age of 72) they truly, and forever continue to intellectually defy the notion of death. “Eternity is an ancient and foolish dream or construction. Learning how to not die is, of course, an entirely different matter”, and Arakawa and Gins are continuing to show us why. 

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Site of Reversible Destiny by ARAKAWA + GINS, Yoro Park, Gifu, Japan

Text: Leta Sobierajski

Images: Joe Keating

Location: Site of Reversible Destiny - Yoro, Gifu, Japan