“In ‘Invisible Cities’ Marco Polo conjures up cities of magical times for his host, the Chinese ruler Kublai Khan, but gradually it becomes clear that he is actually describing one city: Venice.”
‘Invisible Cities’ collates 55 poem-like descriptions in prose form of different cities supposedly encountered by Polo. In groups of 5 and 6, we were given a description of an Invisible City to consider before creating a corresponding piece depicting a visual interpretation of that description. My group was made up of 5 different disciplines: myself from Graphic Communication, Kaya from Textiles (kayanolan.wordpress.com), Jason from Fine Art (jasoncooksart.co.uk), Molly from Illustration and Jess from Artist Designer Maker (jessicastevensonblog.wordpress.com).
Our city was called ‘Thin City 2’ and the description was as follows:
We read over the text carefully and selected elements that stood out to us as well as questions which we felt were raised by the text which we must come up with answers for before proceeding. This helped us to begin to imagine what it was that we were actually aiming to create at the end of this collaborative project.
We gathered that this city could be the remains of a destructive event, leaving only the piping inside the houses creating the frame of houses, the only evidence of human interference with this place. Some of my peers wanted to explore the idea that there is no actual water in the city, as they believed there was no real talk of actual, physical water. I believe this to be untrue, as I feel the phrases ‘new aquatic realm’, ‘burst from multiple foundations’, ‘threads of water’, ‘the jets of the taps, the spurts, the splashes, the sponges’ suds’, ‘the streams of water’ were plenty to elude to the fact that this is a city almost completely surviving on the water supply, for happiness more than anything else. Despite my views, my team felt that it could be argued that there was no water and perhaps, we began to explore, only the illusion of water. Hallucinations and hopeful dreams and imaginations of water in a once populated, happy city with copious amounts of water. An endless supply. We explored the idea that the inhabitants of the destroyed land now may be in denial of the horror they have witnessed and are perhaps even insane, living their lives imagining the world they wish they lived in.
Something that came to mind for me was Roman Kalin, Falko Paeper and Florina Wittmann’s 2014 short film “Wrapped”, a time-lapse film that combines real footage and animation to show plants growing and claiming NYC. This video can be seen here: http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2016/04/wrapped-short-film/
Questions we considered were as follows:
- Are we explorers? How have we come across this place?
- Can the creatures see us? Can we see them? What do they look like? Are they real?
- Are the creatures here imagining a time before tragedy?
- Can we have a utopia without some element of dystopia?
As the project was collaborative, we wanted each discipline to be clearly visible as having had an input in the final piece. We also wanted all of the 5 different elements of the work, contributed by the 5 different collaborators to work together as a piece and visually connect.
Each piece had to be a meter long in width. We decided to incorporate Kaya’s textiles speciality and use fabric instead of paper. She sewed two pieces of fabric (one green and one black) together for our canvas. The pipes were buffed by Jason to show the idea that only infrastructure left was the formation of the metal water pipes. I researched futuristic typefaces and wrote some key vocabulary which we had selected onto the piece. We discussed how these words and phrases not only described the world we had been given, but also looked similar to sign posts, leading people to (or warning them away from) the desolate city. Jess used clay to create an interpretation of the nymphs, giving them a supernatural and ghost-like aesthetic as opposed to a human one.