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Funeral for Bioengineering to Not to Die – Early Works by Arakawa Shusaku
Written by Takeshi HIRATA   
Published: July 06 2010

Funeral for Bioengineering to Not to Die – Early Works by Arakawa Shusaku

fig. 1 Arakawa Shusaku, Einstein Between Matter's Structure and Faintest Sound, 1958-59, Cement, cotton, nylon, painted cotton and polyester cloth in woodenbox, 166.0 x 107.7 x 21.0 cm  The National Museum of Art, Osaka, ©Shusaku Arakawa, photo: Kazuo Fukunaga, the reprint without permission is prohibited.

fig. 2 View from the exhibition, courtesy of The National Museum of Art, Osaka

fig. 3 View from the exhibition, courtesy of The National Museum of Art, Osaka

     Shusaku Arakawa passed away on 19 May, 2010. He consistently repudiated the notion that human death is a destiny which one can’t escape, and developed and practiced his own thoughts without adhering to common sense. I awfully regret his too early passing. This exhibition entitled “Funeral for Bioengineering to Not to Die – Early Works by Arakawa Shusaku” (17 Apr 2010 – 27 Jun 2010, The National Museum of Art, Osaka), which has collected Arakawa’s early works, gave me an opportunity to think anew about the existence/absence of Arakawa, who “has decided not to die”.

     The “early works” included in the title of this exhibition are Arakawa’s creations which were presented in Japan. On 28 December, 1961, he left for the U.S. on his own, and thereafter based his creative activities in New York. His active period in Japan before going to the U.S. was for only about four years. This period includes his participation as one of the exhibitors in “The Nineth Yomiuri Independent” (Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, 1957), his first solo exhibition named “Mō hitotsu-no-Hakaba” (Another Graveyard) (Muramatsu Gallery, 1960), and his second solo exhibition held at the Mudo Gallery in 1961. The exhibition this time has successfully presented Arakawa’s twenty works, commonly known as the “coffin” series, by collecting them from museums throughout Japan . These works had been exhibited in his two solo exhibitions at the Muramatsu Gallery and the Mudo Gallery.
     Incidentally, what kind of works are Arakawa’s “early works” which were brought together after fifty years? Entering the exhibition room, we encounter black wooden boxes which look like coffins. Glossy cloth, colored purple, dark blue and silver, is laid inside the boxes. On the cloth, there is oddly shaped cement. The surface of these “objects” reminds us of dead bodies and is similar to unattractive, sore and injured human skin. Various kinds of materials, such as projections and cotton, are found in some parts of the objects. These works “seem to represent Arakawa’s concept that he completely rejected existing forms of art and the current conditions in the field of art in Japan, and wished to start his own artistic experiment.”* If so, these exhibits can be called requiems which were written with the aim of opposing existing styles of art and supporting his new artistic experiment.
     In 1997, Arakawa became the first Japanese to hold a solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum. The title of the exhibition was “We have decided not to die”. Will the death of Arakawa himself, who “has decided not to die”, collapse this “thought” of his? Arakawa consistently rejected death, developed and practiced his tenacious thoughts, and lived out his natural life. Did he leave only unfeasible ideas to posterity? Here, I would like to consider what the term, “reversing destiny”, advocated by Arakawa, means.

“Destiny means being mortal. All living matter, including human beings, cannot escape its destiny. Therefore, reversing destiny means pursuing the choice of not dying which can never be selected.” *2

     Let us then “reverse destiny” under the assumption that this act is an “option which can never be selected”. In other words, I would like to propose that we should consider this exhibition a retrospective show of Arakawa’s early works as well as of the solo exhibition of his “latest creations”. We should not consider his works displayed in this exhibition from a “retrospective” viewpoint or as his “early works”. Based on the expression “reversing destiny”, as propounded by Arakawa, we must “reverse” our perspective of this exhibition. That is exactly why we view his early works in 2010. (In Arakawa’s words, this would mean exercising “the mechanism of meaning”.) As a result, Arakawa’s biography will be “reversed”. His “early works” will come to be deemed not his past creations which were made in his early years but his current (late-stage) works. This exhibition showed Arakawa’s early works as well as his latest creations. It can be called both his last solo exhibition and his “first solo exhibition”. We, the viewers, through this exhibition have been given an opportunity to “discover” new aspects of Shusaku Arakawa’s creations.
(Translated by Nozomi Nakayama)

Yukihiro Hirayoshi “About the early works by Shusaku Arakawa”, catalogue of “Funeral for Bioengineering to Not to Die – Early Works by Arakawa Shusaku”, National Museum of Art, Osaka, 2010, p.10
Fumi Tsukahara “Tracks and miracle by Osamu Arakawa”, NTT Publishing Co., Ltd., 2009, p.20
Last Updated on July 11 2010

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