Shusaku Arakawa was seven years old when the onset of World War II led his family to place him in a Buddhist monastery for two years to protect him. The conditions he endured there produced persistent nightmares, however, in the hope that his fears could be alleviated, he was sent to live with a neighborhood doctor and his wife for three years after the war. Arakawa became interested in medicine as a teenager and worked as the doctor's assistant while studying drawing, painting, and science in high school.
From 1954 to 1958 Arakawa studied medicine, mathematics and art in Japan and staged several "happenings". In 1960 he was affiliated with a Neo-Dada group in Tokyo and also participated in a demonstration against the continued existence of American military bases in Japan. To escape the controversy in which he then found himself embroiled, Arakawa moved to New York in 1961, where he met John Cage, Marcel Duchamp, and writer/philosopher Madeline Gins, whom he married.
Arakawa and Gins began to collaborate on a prodigious project called The Mechanism of Meaning, which melds physics, metaphysics, phenomenology and epistomology into a visual art form. A part of this series, approximately one-hundred panels, featuring images, texts, and objects, was first shown at the Venice Biennale in 1970. By this time Arakawa was also involved in filmmaking. He wrote and directed Why Not: A Serenade of Eschatological Ecology (1969), and collaborated with Gins on For Example (1971). Both films were shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
In the course of his visual explorations of human thought processes and the structure of meaning, Arakawa has experimented with many printmaking media, including silkscreen, lithography, embossing, etching, and aquatint. In addition to Graphicstudio, Arakawa has worked in New York with Aeropress, Handworks, Maurel Studios, and Syria Studios, and in Minneapolis with Vermillion Editions. Multiples, Inc., New York, has published many of his prints.
In 1986 Arakawa was awarded the Chevalier des arts et des lettres by the French Government. Major exhibitions of Arakawa's prints have been held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1974), and the Williams College Museum of Art (1979). In addition to The Mechanism of Meaning, which traveled in Germany and Switzerland in 1972, one-man exhibitions of his work have been at the Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (1958), the Württembergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart (1966), Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris (1970), Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minnesota (1974, and 1979), Städtische Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf, (1977), Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1978), National Art Museum, Osaka (1979), Lenbachhaus, Munich (1981-1982), Arts Club of Chicago (1981), Seibu Museum, Tokyo (1979, 1987), Padiglione d'arte contemporanea di Milano, (1984), Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield, Connecticut (1984), Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art (1989), and the Joseloff Gallery, University of Hartford, Connecticut (1990). (Fine/Corlett 1991, 104)