Critics’ Picks

View of “Arakawa and Madeline Gins: Eternal Gradient,” 2018.

View of “Arakawa and Madeline Gins: Eternal Gradient,” 2018.

New York

“Arakawa and Madeline Gins: Eternal Gradient”

Arthur Ross Architecture Gallery, Columbia GSAPP
1172 Amsterdam Avenue, Buell Hall
March 30–June 16, 2018

The poet-philosopher Madeline Gins and the artist known as Arakawa began collaborating in the 1960s and, over the next half century, left virtually no creative discipline untouched. In the 1980s, the duo launched an architecture practice that radically upended pervasive architectural values rooted in modernist principles of efficiency and standardization. Believing that architecture should actively challenge the body rather than reinforce habitual movement, they reimagined the most taken-for-granted building staples, such as flat floors and walls. Their goal was to recondition the body to the point that the user could literally “learn not to die.” As they wrote in 1988, “[We are] taking evolution into our own hands / With a built-in mistake.”

Gins and Arakawa’s exhibition here displays the couple’s production at the very moment they began to translate their philosophy of “reversible destiny” into spatial design. One series of never-before-exhibited drawings, “Screen-Valves,” 1985–87, studies for an impossible-looking geometric enclosure, suggest an iterative process of developing a visual vocabulary feasible in three dimensions. Other sketches, such as Drawing for Ubiquitous Site X, 1990, are halfway between surrealist composition and blueprint. Artifacts from their archive—unpublished manuscripts, correspondence, Polaroids—are arranged and framed within a gridded metal structure by design firm Norman Kelley. The smart exhibition architecture references both the drawings and an exquisite wire model for an unrealized project titled The Process in Question/Bridge of Reversible Destiny, 1987–90.

Although they did not, ultimately, live forever—Arakawa died in 2010 and Gins in 2014—their proposal for an architecture of immortality was, at heart, a confrontation with foregone conclusions about what a life should be. “Eternal Gradient” offers an (oddly shaped) window into a practice ready to be revivified.