24 March 2009

Curse of the Immortal

edited & plagiarized from todays WSJ

Mr. Arakawa and Madeline Gins are on a quest to make human beings immortal.

The duo strives to achieve everlasting life through architecture. Mr. Arakawa and Ms. Gins design structures they say can enable inhabitants to "counteract the usual human destiny of having to die."

The pair's work, based loosely on a movement known as "transhumanism," is premised on the idea that people degenerate and die in part because they live in spaces that are too comfortable. The artists' solution: construct abodes that leave people disoriented, challenged and feeling anything but comfortable.

They build buildings with no doors inside. They place rooms far apart. They put windows near the ceiling or near the floor. Between rooms are sloping, bumpy moonscape-like floors designed to throw occupants off balance. These features, they argue, stimulate the body and mind, thus prolonging life. "You become like a baby," says Mr. Arakawa.

The couple met in 1962 as students at the Brooklyn Museum Art School. She was a native New Yorker; he was already a successful Japanese artist. They later married. In the 1960s and '70s they played a role in the conceptual art movement, based on the philosophy that the artist's idea or concept behind a piece of art is more important than the physical object itself. The Guggenheim Museum SoHo in Manhattan showcased 30 years of their work in 1997, including paintings and architectural models.

"Their research is a milestone in the history of conceptual art," says Alexandra Munroe, senior curator at the main Guggenheim Museum, on Manhattan's Upper East Side, where the couple's work is currently on display. She says many of their supporters don't literally accept the couple's message on immortality but appreciate it in a "metaphorical" way.

To the artists, eternal life is a real possibility. "This is a great chance for the human race," says Ms. Gins.

They have completed a park, an office building and nine "reversible destiny" lofts in Japan. The lofts, finished in 2005, cost about $6mm to build and rent for $1,700 to $2,300 a month.

A typical apartment has three or four rooms in the shapes of either a cylinder, a cube, or a sphere. Rooms surround a kitchen-living room combination with bumpy, undulating floors and floor-to-ceiling ladders and poles. Dozens of colors, from school-bus yellow to sky blue, cover the walls, ceilings and other surfaces.

At least one tenant says he feels a little younger already. Nobutaka Yamaoka, who moved in with his wife and two children about two years ago, says he has lost more than 20 pounds and no longer suffers from hay fever, though he isn't sure whether it was cured by the loft.

There is no closet, and Mr. Yamaoka can't buy furniture for the living room or kitchen because the floor is too uneven, but he relishes the lifestyle. "I feel a completely different kind of comfort here," says the 43-year-old video director. His wife, however, complains that the apartment is too cold. Also, the window to the balcony is near the floor, and she keeps bumping her head against the frame when she crawls out to hang up laundry, he says. ("That's one of the exercises," says Ms. Gins.)

Last year, Mr. Arakawa and Ms. Gins's first U.S. home, which resembles the Tokyo lofts, was completed in East Hampton, N.Y. It took $2mm and eight years to construct, and has a listing price of $5.5mm.

Many scientists see the couple's work as part of a futile, age-old human aspiration to live forever. "Longevity salesman is the second-oldest profession," says S. Jay Olshansky, a researcher on aging at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "This would be the worst possible house you could build for an older person," he says. To prolong life, he recommends building spaces that "lower the probability of falls," plus a healthy diet and exercise.

Some transhumanists dismiss the couple's architectural solution. "Human life has enough challenges in terms of our work and daily lives that we don't need to invent new physical challenges for our bodies," says Ray Kurzweil, a leading transhumanist figure in the U.S. In the future, humans will have microscopic robots in their bodies which will be able to regenerate cells, he says.

1 comment:

Brooklyn Beat said...

Profound. Domo arigato gozaimasu