Mental journey

Shūsaku Arakawa – Shape No. 1

Shūsaku Arakawa, Shape No. 1, 1969, oil on canvas, 121 x 182 cm, Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst Aachen, loan of the Peter and Irene Ludwig Foundation, photo: Carl Brunn

In his work Shape No.1, the Japanese American artist Shūsaku Arakawa gives us a seemingly simple task: to forget all places – except the spots and outlines marked on the canvas with the word “place”. The artist is playing a game with us. He is well aware that the word “place” creates an associative space that we, contrary to his instructions, will automatically fill with memories of the places we have visited. The minimalistic language painting be comes an imaginary map, richer, and more diverse than any landscape representation could be. 

In 1961, Arakawa began his extensive study of the power of words and language. His thoughts, for example, on Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language, are not only reflected in his paintings, which were influenced by Neo-Dada, but also in the book The Mechanism of Meaning (Work in progress: 1963-1971) that he wrote together with Madeline Gins.