Open Letter: to Madeline, then all of us



(This was written in the weeks after Madeline’s death, 8 Jan 2014)


Open Letter to Madeline Gins, and then All of Us, on Her Dying, to Some Extent            

by Alan Prohm

1609831_568545133223463_1565146305_nDear Madeline,




Like in Proust, we will never forget you. And better than Proust, we never did.


The shape you carved in a coming to sense, some way we had never suspected, you gave us for keeps. The architectural body, biotopology and an absolute refusal to accept death, on our behalf.


Dear Fellow Friend,

Madeline’s outrage at our having to die, or to live/be anything less than totally and unceasingly, was the nugget of an incredible and most original nut, so sensitive, vulnerable and exposed to the blows of landing in this embodimindment – not least to the blow of her Arakawa dying, three and a half years earlier. Original, sensitive, and/but a nut (for life) that factually, there are those who can attest to this, could not be cracked, except now at this very last, in this one concrete, bitter way at least, which is still not everything. We know, don’t we, that she has already succeeded in not dying, as Arakawa had with her. Living forever is here and now and has been. Please, help yourself.


Start now.


But let us not sell her, Madeline’s, life-effort short for the sake of a consoling cliché, based on a weak-metaphoric reading of the reversible destiny project, namely, that she will/one can never-die in another sense (”you will never die in our hearts”), in us. This other sense I take for granted, and am gladdened how it brings us together, in that we who remember her are each then a portion of the she that continues to live – this is true of anybody, and so most especially of Madeline. This thought is comforting, and I’m not above using language loosely for comfort; I will miss Madeline for a long time. But caring for clarity, and in respect for what she and Arakawa were working for, the potential they put in play, it’s a consolation that shouldn’t be too taken to heart. The not dying she meant, that matters, is not this one we know it will be our doing to realize, in remembering her and passing her on. Though even that is a tremendous enduring and feat of resistance, resistance to the relentless general downhill course of things, and I/we can give thanks in advance for everything she will continue to bring us.


Madeline, and Arakawa with her, meant not dying for real.


I last saw Madeline last July, near the end, in a stumble, before a reprise, at the threshold to this, to this blatant fail in an attempt she almost alone among people in the course of our times has thought to make, again on our behalf. Blatant in never accepting death, even as a defense mechanism in the face of its ubiquity, even now, confronted with this painful and scary it, this thing she had built and spent her life determined not to. But bald-faced, plain-hearted too in never denying what she and we all know. That it has happened to everyone that ever came before, so far. Anyone making the mistake of thinking Madeline or Arakawa didn’t know what they were or we are up against certainly didn’t know them, and the particular mix of madness, brilliance and love that went into driving and steering this incredible adventure.


Some important scientist or philosopher or other (who was it again Madeline? Could it have been Isabelle Stengers?, or am I exaggerating), once lamented in admiration to them over dinner or at a conference or something, ”You know, you really could have been part of the big game/or played in the big leagues” (– oh how did she put it, it was a she, wasn’t it? – all the things no one will ever again know with Madeline gone, with Arakawa).


From what I have been able to find out of the world, formerly known as art, they were one of the truly great games being played. Even more certainly and importantly, they were two of the greatest players.


I share with a great many the honor of having a little bit crossed the crazy board they built to play this on, with them. This serious game of learning how not to die. Did you ever get to see how they played it? If not, keep watching, you will. Arakawa playing baseball everything like Madeline skipping a rope that is a crack. What game gives you grasp on the fielding you do to play it? This game. Procedural architecture, biotopology and the self-education of the architectural body.


That everything that is built should be built to keep us more alive, longer, is in the tradition of art and design endeavors to William Morris’ idea that everything, even lampposts should be pretty for our betterment, what Marx’s agencying of the human desire and urgency is to Rilke’s sublimationist aesthetics of poetic human anguish. This is a difficult sentence. Is it worth assembling the careful construal, coordination and referencing I will need to grasp it? This is the lure of literary studies and theory speaking. ”If you study hard and always strive to know the full range of the body’s capabilities, you will in all probability not have to die.” This is a hard sentence too. It is the voice of reversible destiny speaking. Is it worth learning all there is to know about the body and being an architectural one, imaging along as I/we am/are in bioscleave, to assemble the knowing that can say if this is true? And what is true, anyway, and where does shooting for it get you? Or, not so fast, how do you aim this thing?


Their good friend Arthur Danto a long time ago remarked that their wager could be taken a little like Pascal took the iffy Christian bargain of faith for eternal life: I have more to gain by believing than not believing, so I’ll just do that. In other words: You can take reversible destiny seriously and see what that gets you. Trying not to die. What’s the worst that could happen?


That one could think this was no wonder, but that one, two, would stand up and say this is in fact the right aim of the most serious thinking necessary, and that aim as such will have to go around by way of the architecture if it’s ever going to hit anything. This took relentlessness. Once in a cab going uptown with Madeline and the reverend Mr. Danto, or was it at dinner there, she found her moment to say, So of course you know the future of philosophy is architecture. No, Mr. Danto said, the future of philosophy is philosophy. Now Madeline is gone, but Mr. Danto has not had the last word.[1] (”Arthur”, Madeline was always saying, a little scoldingly and a little pleading.) Imagine what failing to not die would feel like, after a lifetime of trying.


From a crisis-ethical perspective, counting on philosophy’s future at all is irresponsible in light of its, like architecture’s, failure to keep us living (more), unless the necessary efficacy is assembled for getting the thinking/knowing to hit home (the body), and matter. How to matter the intention to more life? That’s the answer procedural architecture asks. Madeline tried, and look what happened.


The grandness of the field/meadow Madeline and Arakawa grew built and cultivated can for the first time be fully appreciated in that they have only now, by dint of circumstance, ever ceased producing new work and extending new ventures down the deep horizon of our reversible destiny. That’s 50 years and five storeys of a New York brownstown filled with joint creative production, along an arc of artistic intention more radically targetted and more resolutely and vigorously sustained than almost any other I can think of. Can you?


The aliveness this has all happened as (them) has lived not only in their two bodies, focus/source of such unlikely twinned intensity and drive. Around Arakawa and Madeline there have always been a constellation of other essential co-thinkers and bi-producers. The alumni list is long of those who have sat at the machines of the reversible destiny office (before that the Architectural Body Research Foundation, before that the Containers of Mind Foundation), and painstakingly in dialogue and under directive made the visions concrete.


The New York office continues with creative staff under competent leadership and direction, cf. the interior they had just finished at Dover Street Market when Madeline vanished. Joke Post in New York has been at the backbone of the Reversible Destiny project as architect and project manager since 2001, managing the office and working with a constantly changing team of designers, assistants and specialists, currently including Leopold Lambert, ST Luk, Alistair Noble, Stephen Hepworth, George Bolster and Monica Hofstadter. Momoyo Homma, since around the same time, has been running the Japan office, and has kept a steady life intensifying in engagements hosted at the Mitaka Lofts. Now the two of them, together with the other members of the Board and of the Foundation, will be taking the Reversible Destiny Foundation, and its projects, forward in a new phase and configuration, the extension of a search for not dying beyond the deaths of its founding deciders. Beyond this core, there is a many-orbit ring-cluster of other artists and scholars that has over recent and distant years been in active collaboration and dialogue with Madeline and/or with Madeline and Arakawa, and that carry the legacy, such as it will become, of their research and experimentation. In these friends and their writing/teaching/art doing/event making/design work/etcera, we see Reversible Destiny is already not dying with now the unacceptable death, like everyone else’s, of our Madeline Gins.


What else can there be to do in the face of the relentlessness that took Madeline, than to be/become as relentless as she? And in this, with her example, we should all feel greatly encouraged.


Ah Madeline,

To take part in the bright quick field of your decisiveness and commitments, to be a friend in the web of striving investigation for a more humanity, a more-than humanity, to save our skins, as you said, an investigation you focused fiercely in your terms, for your projects, but that has sprouted/spurred/pruned so many other paths around, beside, with and in the wake of it/you, made architectural body happen, and matter, to so many. What an honor. You now so much more life in so many many lives, our lives, now hosting yours – I-for/as/with-We /and you/  will go on building and striving.


Love, your friend




January 29 2014, Berlin

[1] In fact, Madeline did. Arthur Danto, aged 89, died October 25, 2013.