Site of Reversible Destiny


Yoro Park - architectural experiment by Arakawa in Gifu Prefecture prompts fantasy Art & Architecture Journal No 45

Instead of being fearful of losing your balance, look forward to it. This instruction is part of the enigmatic advice for users of the Site of Reversible Destiny, perhaps the most idiosyncratic and sensational of recent evironmental installations in Japan. It is an enormous and imposing artistic theme park in Gifu Prefecture near the Yoro waterfall which according to legend, once turned to wine.

The Foundation is the offspring of artist Shusaku Arakawa and his poet partner in New York, Madeline Gin. This installation is the latest and largest of a series of extraordinary projects which must be entered at the visitor's own risk with titles such as Zone of Clearest Confusion, Critical Resemblance House, and Cleaving Hall.

The site consists of a garden in Shakkei style for strolling, which incorporates "each of the five Japans" and makes use of the ancient stretch of the Yoro hills as a backdrop. A series of mounds and trenches give it the appearance of a mystical mountain range in miniature, a scene from a scroll painting, animated and turned into a three-dimensional yet calligraphic equivalent of the Japanese archipelago. Visitors are invited to wander through a strange, lumpy landscape, "as though an extra terrestrial". A landing site perhaps, for an alien UFO encounter, it is venturesome terrain, an elliptical crater-like dish, shaped into the earth's crust. In plan, a labyrinth of garden paths web their way across the enclosure linking a variety of honeycombed shelters. These tilted buildings with their criss-cross sections are virtually inaccessible. It is a helter-skelter landscape where the private realm of domestic furniture is pitched out in the open public domain. An extravagant adventure playground, it overthrows the commonplace by transforming the environment and mak ing it unfamiliar. Arakawa is a neo-Dadaist who attempts to operate in a state of controlled insanity. Although he employs an accessible language of everyday objects, his true intentions remain obscure - like a mushroom farmer, he keeps his subjects in the dark.

Maybe it's the questions which are after all more interesting than the answers. Mareel Duchamp once said: "The public has its part to play. The creative act is not performed by the artist alone. The spectator brings the work of art into contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting and thus adds his contribution to the creative act". Like Duchamp, he invites the viewer to parficipate in the creative act but circumscribes their experience. The strange juxtapositions at Yoro Park are an assault course on the senses where Arakawa sets out to disturb the viewer's standpoint to a hazardous degree. he believes that "constructing the perceiver" is a necessary intervention to create a fresh view of he world. The arfist must jolt the viewer out of his routine aesthetic existence. To avoid the predictable, visitors must first experience a state of physical insecurity and vulnerability - making them lose their balance is to discharge the body from the inertia of its routine.

"A radical alteration of the viewer's attitude - physical and mental - will in turn change our cognitive and psychological perspective and so rescue mankind from its destiny."

The Containers of the Mind Foundation wants to offer mankind an alternative direction for the future - and it should be welcomed. Arakawa claims to have abandoned art, if so, he seems to have landed in the field of human psychology and perception. Perhaps the enjoyment of seeing and feeling things as if for the first time is the essence of the art and architecture experience. Arakawa's fantasy returns us to our childhood, briefly rejuvenated by the joy of the unexpected.

In Japan the art of garden landscaping is traditionally of equal status to painting and sculpture. The Site of Reversible Destiny will enter the history books as just another step in the development of the Japanese garden, a 21st century version of, say, the 17th century Katsura detached palace gardens in nearby Kyoto by Koberi Ensbu: but it is not. There is also a genuine, as opposed to metaphorical, safety risk at the gardens and they are staffed by attendants, who like mountain herdsmen, steer visitors from harm's way. To bypass regulations, it is officially classified as a work of art. A few have already fallen victim to unfenced holes. Art like this can seriously damage your health.


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