The Rubik's Cube of Miguel Araiza

An appreciation

"I shall venture to request a few minutes to expound its concept of the universe."
- Jorge Luis Borges; "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius"

The Rubik's Cube of Miguel Araiza is as good a world as we're ever going to have.

The installation comprises 332 hand-cut paper cards, each depicting with 150 coloured dots the position of a five-by-five Rubik's Cube. Taken in sequence, the cards are a guide of 332 steps to the cube's solution.

The sequence was charted by Miguel Araiza, a Mexican-born Vancouver artist, who originally envisioned his cards as the manuscript of a book titled Meaning Seeds, which would unlock the Rubik's Cube and proliferate its secrets.

Besides cryptically studying his acoustic guitar in public cafes, sometimes playing one note over and over again for hours, Araiza's project to decode the cube was apparently his major focus for several years. An outspoken proponent of total individual freedom, Araiza may have been motivated by a vision of universal empowerment: soon everyone could play the game successfully.

Having completed the cards, but not having bound them, Araiza gifted Meaning Seeds to Martin Gunst in 2007. The two enjoyed a friendship before the darker side of Araiza's personality began to cast its shadow. Despite his friendliness and generosity, intense paranoia and bouts of stunted rage also characterized Araiza's behaviour during this period. Following an apparent mental breakdown, the friendship was suspended, and Araiza seemed to forget about his cards entirely. I recall the tall teetering stack sitting unused on Gunst's desk for years, like a Rubik's Cube stuck in one position, its owner too frustrated to make the next move.

The Rubik's Cube of Miguel Araiza is this next move, though it is unknown whether Araiza would approve of the new configuration.

Although Araiza is an artist in his own right, he did not consider his project an artistic one; rather, Meaning Seeds was an instruction manual -- stylized, perhaps, but no more artistic than a beautiful road map. Gunst's configuration has transformed the map into an experience; it germinates the meaning in the seeds.

The manuscript could not have survived on its own, for like the most meticulously plotted theologies, Meaning Seeds elaborated a world from an absurb premise. How, exactly, is the sequence absurd? Gunst's side-by-side placement of the first and final cards are the indication. Though Araiza's sequence does indeed result in a completed Rubik's Cube, he apparently proceeded through tens of thousands of pinpoints without realizing the fallacy of his arbitrary starting position: it is just as difficult to arrive at position 1 as at position 332; indeed harder, because we haven't another Meaning Seeds to take us there.

But Gunst's move is no parody. The object as it now exists does not terminate with the absurdity of its premise, though that would happen if one tried to follow the map. Instead, Gunst's installation rescues Araiza's work from self-defeat. In a stack, the cards are a beautiful but simple oddity, and quite useless; installed, they are a system, and they are meaningful. Yes, the system is flawed, but how boring it would be to point out a system's absurdity and end there, as if one still believed in the possibility of a perfect system. (But then we must; otherwise we wouldn't throw out so many for their flaws.)

So how does a useless system generate meaning? What is the point of playing with a Rubik's Cube?

Only by possessing simultaneities does an object gain the status of three-dimensional; only by manifesting contradictions is a symbol round; and only by envisioning three dimensions simultaneously can one solve the Rubik's Cube. Araiza was good at this; are you?

A massive cross, The Rubik's Cube of Miguel Araiza is nailed on Gunst's kitchen wall as a Catholic might hang a crucifix, or a Jew might be hung on one. But the cross is a cube unfolded. It is neither one nor the other, and it is completely both.

Likewise, in the form of the unfolded cube, the installation's minimum is simultaneously its maximum. Put another way, the cube on its largest scale -- the cross -- is also on its smallest scale -- the card. Both depict a Rubik's Cube in transit toward solution. The cube is one position and all positions. Just so, a cross is the symbol of the eternal spirit and the gravestone of some soldier's clumsy death. Can you see all the sides?

Salvaging shapes from the absurd: I can think of no better articulation of the creative impulse, or the will to live. It occurs to me that nothing meaningful would ever happen in a world that wasn't useless.


This essay was self-published and distributed at the artist's apartment, August, 2010.