Essay: Jondi Keane – What is Missing From the World?


What is Missing From the World?

Jondi Keane, Deakin University




Being-toward-the-world, and toward the world in so far as the world is the configuration of constellations of being-toward in its plural singularity.

(Nancy, 1997: 33)



To begin a study of Arakawa and Gins is, in many ways, to begin a practice. To continue a study on Arakawa and Gins and the practice of embodied cognition, is to begin to reconfigure the practice of person in relation to the Social. When Madeline Gins asked Gorgio de Chirico what was missing from the world, he did not hesitate to identify the larger context of relations in his reply: ‘Morality, kindness and social justice’ (conversations with Madeline Gins 22 July 2004).


In many ways, Arakawa and Gins sustained their response to de Chirico throughout their collaboration. Although seemingly self-evident, these social values are contentious, difficult to measure and even more difficult to construct. Arakawa and Gins, self-described ‘red diaper babies’ (conversation with Arakawa and Madeline Gins, April 2002) are not content to allow indiscriminate indirectness to suffice as the method for social change or as the criteria for the meting out of justice. All three values are immaterial provisions, and cannot be kept in silos away from the world to protect their objective application.


Gins’ reply to de Chirico was that she was thinking of ‘something else’, specifically reversible destiny. By repositioning of the scale of the question, Gins transformed de Chirico’s missing values into modes of perception and action by which to achieve the impossible project against mortality. She has made morality, kindness and social justice into configurable activities of sustainability rather than ideas or concepts of relation.


It will take time for the pragmatic acuity of landings site configurations to change the shape of awareness. Arakawa and Gins have not developed a political strategy or even a political ecology (Latour 2004). They have operated as researchers in a community rather than as gurus with a path. They have only offered enigmatic models to follow: the humansnail, the deaf-blind and the deafferent configurable resensitisation. They have gone about their project to realise the optimum degree of freedom for the ‘organism that persons’. In many ways they have achieved indirectly a process by which to produce the three things missing from this world.


Arakawa and Gins ask: Is it that the body and its person, co-extensional only up to a point, share events but not extent? (in Benjamin 1994: 68) Their practice produces centres of action and sentience, tied to the world and trying to remain in and of the world by transforming it. The ethics of such constructions have to do with the extent of the site of person. I will briefly discuss how Arakawa and Gins’ project addresses each of these three missing links.


Regarding morality, J.L. Rush (in Govan 1997) has made the best assessment of the indirect and non-prescriptive quality of Arakawa and Gins’ moral responsibility. First, Rush concludes that an ‘organism that persons’ constructing itself procedurally would no longer desire to irrationally consume or destroy. I have argued that Arakawa and Gins have supplied other reasons, bodily reasons for action. Rush observes:


Such subjects would view themselves as coeval with other beings, all the while recognising the moral obligations that flow from the fact that we are creatures that influence our environment by our conceptions. Such a moral bearing involves nothing less than organising our interactions in the world so as not to implicitly transfer to others the authority latent in our having this or that concept of the world as a whole. (Rush in Govan 1997: 52)


Their procedural approach to daily life allows a person to move among the positions it has constructed, reaching towards others, aware of the onus that co-constructing and co-selecting brings. This has no stronger position than the moral imperative of ‘crisis ethics’.


Regarding kindness, Arakawa and Gins’ tentativeness distributed through landing sites and architectural procedures represent the most gentle to encounter and interaction. Landing site configurations infused with tentativeness are respectful of the fact that every action is active and impacts upon the ‘organism that person’ and the surround within which it operates. They consider landing sites as ‘the “coming alive” for sentience – as sentience?! Of anything whatsoever’ (Gins and Arakawa 2002: 6). Suggesting that landing sites are a landing already changes how a person can deploy them in trying to make the most neutral landings possible, ‘touched but untouched’ in an attempt not to disturb but to observe and learn (2002: 6). In considering landing sites, the distribution of sentience and the encounter of sentience with itself, kindness emerges as the quality of this interaction intent on exploring co-construction rather than dominating its operations and controlling its interests. Kindness is the transformational quality of tentativeness that a person can extend to him- or herself and to others. They add:


Do not mar tentativeness. One ought not to try and hold onto to what one cannot hold onto. How to hold tentativeness in (its/your) shape. Do not be greedy: do not try to hold onto too much. What holds or register as tentativeness, that great on-to-the-next … (Gins and Arakawa 2002: 84-85).


Social justice is, in my view, the missing value to which Arakawa and Gins’ project has most contributed. Cumulative and indirect, it is in the realm of the social that their research into the non-figural scales of actions and events has its greatest potential. Kindness as the indirect outcome of tentativeness has a direct impact upon social justice, which is perhaps the most elusive quality of movement in our epoch.


Kindness (born of tentativeness) constitutes a micro-form of justice – the democratisation of attention and the refusal to privilege any form of thought over another. The impact of democratised attention produces, I believe, largesse and tolerance through categories being made tentative. Largesse, almost by definition, is linked to modes of inclusion through interest in encounters with otherness. Social justice – the communal architectural body – requires top-down and bottom-up processing. Co-origination is the forgotten impetus that gives rise to the social in the individual. Lived experience provides a link between the relentless witnessing and an incessant siting of awareness.


It is the justice of heteronomy, of irreducible difference. It is a type of justice whose exercise does not subject anyone to a law that is alien to him or her and thus is not an injustice; it is a justice that does not legislate and does not derive from legislation, but we see that it is not therefore lawless. (Godzich in Lyotard 1992: 134)


The value of indirectness that influences the way we construct education, health, social interaction and rules of judgment, must not continue to be underestimated. The impetus for direct outcomes, correspondences and standardisation that constitutes ‘global’ (increasingly ‘glocal’) homogeneity is clearly not an investment in human, cultural or personal development. Resistance, dismantling and jamming must become reassembly ‘without reference to models’. [1]


It is not contradictory to imagine that indirectness is the more direct route to realisation, or to imagine that experimentation is the mode of engagement that conserves continuity. Arakawa and Gins indirectly make social justice an imperative by opening the boundaries of understanding to asignifying systems, to engagement with the reciprocal forces of non-human and inorganic interactions, and the dynamics of co-selection and co-construction inherent in the composite term organism-person-surround.


The reversible destiny project reconstructs the experience of our own perception-as-co-construction that in turn participates in forming the experience of inter-subjectivity and otherness. The reconstruction of knowledge, practised as the inseparability of the body, the surrounds and the shape of awareness, emerges from embodied cognition as the condition for social justice.


On the one-year anniversary of Madeline Gins death, the contribution of Arakawa and Gins’ work has not been fully explored, in particular, the relationship between embodied practices and enactive or reconfigurative possibilities in the human organism. Arakawa and Gins’ project places the question of human knowledge and the construction of daily life in the hands of the researcher/practitioner. The impact of these reconfigurations is evident in current art-science collaborations, but is most evident and innovative in the work of Arakawa and Gins. Daily research/daily practice supplies an unending and mutually beneficial existential inquiry whose actions, in themselves, will sustain the life of the resident-researcher.




Works cited


Benjamin, A. (ed) (1994) Arakawa and Madeline Gins’ Architecture: Sites of Reversible Destiny. Art and Design Monograph Series, London: Academy Editions.


Gins, M. and Arakawa (2002) The Architectural Body. Tuscaloosa: University of
Alabama Press.


Latour, B (2004) The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences in to Democracy. C. Porter (trans), Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


Godzich, W. (1992) ‘Afterword’, in Jean-Francois Lyotard The Post Modern Explained: Correspondence 1982-1985. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press: 109-36.


Rush, F.L. (1997) ‘To Think, To Invent, To Be Invented’ in M. Govan (comp), Reversible Destiny – Arakawa and GinsWe Have Decided Not to Die. Exhibition Catalogue, New York: Guggenheim Museum Soho: 42-53.




[1] Lyotard’s naming of the form of resistance to homogeneity is the melancholic and ironic term Paganism, which is the status of prescriptive statements that must be self-standing and produce ‘a state of affairs in which the practice of justice must take place without reference to models’ (Godzich in Lyotard 1992: 126) typical of the rupture of experimentation versus the continuous derivation of legitimation (1992: 127).