“… the invisible reasons which make cities live…”

Digital print on paper, pins, pearl cotton thread, yarn, stickers
Dimensions variable

This series of diagrammatic studies functioned as personal exercises in understanding Italo Calvino’s 1972 novel Invisible Cities, a book that has both fascinated and perplexed me since I first read it nine years ago. It was created for I_S_L_A_N_D_S, an experimental platform that repurposes eight showcase windows in an old shopping centre, and utilised the windows' decades-old styrofoam backing as canvases for the diagrams.

A deconstruction of the travel literature genre, Invisible Cities imagines an extended conversation in which the explorer Marco Polo describes fifty-five fictitious cities to the emperor Kublai Khan. The novel meditates not just on the idiosyncrasies of our built environment, but also on the heterogeneity of human experience, and even on the nature of reality itself. It has an intriguing mathematical structure – eleven themes of five cities each overlap across nine chapters, interspersed with interactions between Polo and Khan.

Calvino wrote of the novel: “I built up a many-faceted structure in which each brief text is close to the others in… a network in which one can follow multiple routes and draw multiple, ramified conclusions.” Rejecting the more predictable approach of illustrating Calvino’s rich visual imagery, I treated the novel as a data set, submerging myself in the “network” – or indeed, networks – that Calvino has constructed. By obsessively mapping the novel’s underlying systems, I propose alternative ways of reading and interpreting the information contained within its pages, each diagram a new encounter with Calvino’s enigmatic universe.

“… the invisible reasons which make cities live…” was exhibited from 15 May to 19 June 2018 at I_S_L_A_N_D_S [Singapore]. For more about this project, see this interview with Art Radar Journal. I also wrote a blog post for I_S_L_A_N_D_S about my relationship with the book. This project owes many ideas to the paper Invisible Mathematics in Italo Calvino's Le città invisibili by Ileana Moreno-Viqueira.