Arakawa-Gins at the ICC

by Monty DiPietro

Shusaku Arakawa shakes his head and frowns, "No, no, you don’t understand, you are asking all the wrong questions!"

A tidy knot of opening party disciples stands around the smug Arakawa (1936-), who is dressed in black, a scarf draped around his neck. As the artist speaks, his arms remain folded resolutely across his chest.

"I don’t care about art! We are the first persons in architectural history trying to construct new life and so we need to find out how to create certain phenomena through body events," he explains. "That’s why I’m making a revolutionary city."

"Sensorium City (Tokyo Bay)" is a 1:100 scale model of Arakawa and Madeline Gins’ proposed 10,000-resident city of the future. The work in progress sits at the center of "The City as the Art Form of the Next Millennium," a mixed media installation now showing in Gallery A of NTT’s massive InterCommunication Center (ICC), in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward.

While the city model suggests Israeli architect Moshe Safdie’s "Habitat" housing modules with an organic twist to the topography, an important difference is that while Safdie realized his vision on Montreal’s Cite du Havre 30 years ago, it is unlikely that the far larger Arakawa/Gins concept, breathing with anti-Tokyo green spaces and imagination, will ever actually get built here.

Like Arakawa’s 1983 work in progress to construct a second Mt. Fuji, "Sensorium City" is just a dream.

Or is it?

"We really hope the plan will be realized in the near future," insists ICC manager Manabu Kunieda - referring to "Sensorium City" and not the second Mt. Fuji. "We must find a new architecture for city planning that seamlessly integrates cyberspace and real space."

Poet Madeline H. Gins (1941-), Arakawa’s wife and artistic partner, is the more personable of the New York-based pair. "Yes," she says, "we’re totally serious about getting to build this city - it will help look at the matter of what a human being is."

"We are against this kind of flatness," she says, tapping her foot on the floor, "something is wrong with flat."

The exhibition space’s overhead lighting constantly changes, an effect undermined by florescent light streaming in through the four open doors at the front of the exhibition room.

"The doors are open because in the dark it would be too dangerous to walk on the ramps," Kunieda explains, "and someone might fall."

The ramps Kunieda refers to afford the viewer a bird’s eye view on the city model. I notice the danger myself, after nearly tumbling 3 meters while stepping backwards to read one of several texts accompanying the dozens of architectural plans postered on the walls.

Fearing a serious injury during the run of the show, I ask why there are no safety railings along the ramps.

"Because," replies Kunieda, "danger is very important in Arakawa’s art."

"The Site of Reversible Destiny" is dangerous. Arakawa and Gins’ 1995 "Theme Park of the Mind" is a challenge to the automatic responses that result from living in a world of flat surfaces and right angles. The artists have rolled their organic architecture over two hectares of Yoro Park in Gifu Prefecture. A local tourist guide describes the work as "laid Dali-like across the undulating ground...a great place for children to scramble, and for people any age to stumble..."

While the open-air installation has seen a few skinned knees, it forces visitors into a heightened awareness of, and consequently an informed relationship with, their surroundings.

If, as Arakawa and Gins’ work seems to suggest, predictable cityscapes make predictable people, the pair’s dedication to a body-based re-evaluation of the psycho-geography of our increasingly artificial living environments may be revolutionary after all.

Please, just don’t fall off the ramp.

notes: until Mar 29, 1998 at ICC (5353-0803).
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