‘Being kept in the dark can be a critical gesture’
Arakawa and Madeline Gins’s Mechanism of Meaning
in Mixed messages
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The Mechanism of Meaning (1963-1973; 1996) by artist-architect-poet-philosophers Arakawa and Madeline Gins, unfolds over more than eighty eight-foot high painted and collaged panels, using image, object and text together to produce an epic diagram of the mind as it works at problem solving and meaning making. At the core of this project is a mobilisation of impossibility, ambiguity, mistakes, frustrations, puns and illogicality that, in asking for a solution or movement and then denying it, self-reflexively sends the viewer-reader back to their own actions as meaning-making mechanisms in the manner of Zen koans and Dada jokes. Arakawa and Gins, working in a neo-Duchampian tradition, use ‘non-retinal’ resources to reconfigure perception and reason by problematising the visual and textual world through embedding it within a set of playfully illogical conceptual constructs, acting to bring back to perception those other, non-visual senses, whilst embedding them in a consideration of bodily experience brought forth by sightlessness and physical frustration. The Mechanism of Meaning uses its combination of visual, haptic and verbal to move between visible and invisible form, Garland argues, to provoke the viewer-reader into considering the active roles of the mind and of the other non-visual senses in reading, seeing and reasoning.

Mixed messages

American correspondences in visual and verbal practices

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