The cool and analytical appearance characteristic of Arakawa's mature work, which gives it the look of scientific research or a philosophical treatise, is not surprising given that he had studied medicine and mathematics at Tokyo University before making art. The cylindrical motif seen in the earlier painting Tubes reappears in
Out of distance / Out of texture 1978. Here the tubes are more elaborate, a tube within a tube made up of rotating planes. These overlie a diagrammatic floor plan of a small two-bedroom dwelling, and, in turn, are overlaid with radiating lines of perspective emanating from the tubes and an enigmatic series of words and phrases.
In this complex juxtaposition, language - both visual and verbal - becomes more important than the technical qualities of the painting. The machine-look stencilled labels that Arakawa fixes to objects, whether tubes or more complex creations such as the electromagnets seen here, remain an inadequate description, underscoring the gap between object and word. Words become objects and objects become words as Arakawa exposes the ambiguities in the relationship.
Arakawa denies the 'artist's hand' in his paintings. Expressionistic or emotive marks on the canvas are few, serving only as a foil to the deadpan, mechanical style. It seems as though in his works he is attempting to investigate, as objectively as any physicist, the mechanics of perception. Paintings such as Out of distance / Out of texture appear to be aimed at the intellect, but the resonance of the words themselves - perhaps because of their ultimate lack of precision - effects a poetic response. Arakawa's paintings are crafted to evoke a pure yet sensual beauty.
adapted from Michael Desmond, 'Arakawa Shusaku', in Michael Brand, ed., Traditions of Asian Art, Canberra: National Gallery of Australia 1995, p.88, by Christine Dixon DW
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010