At the start of this project we were introduced to Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino and read a common passage on the city of Isidora. In the first week we explored the meaning of this passage and wrote a narrative on the city. Based on this narrative, in the studio class we made visuals that illustrated the story that we had written.
By the next week, we had read the whole book and were asked to choose a passage that we wanted to work with for the rest of the project. The passage I chose was cities and eyes (1) that describes the city of Valdrada. In this week, we explored how memory was connected to our passage and wrote a short paragraph exploring this connection. In studio, we made visuals bringing out the essence of this connection through black and white silhouettes.
In the third week, by answering some questions on constructed environments, we studied how Calvino had described his cities and given each city a unique landscape. In studio, we again made black and white visuals, which gave a sense of how our city would look. We then also tried to make cut outs from this visual. In the fourth week we looked at semiotics. We deciphered how signs and symbols in our city had a hidden metaphorical meaning that we hadn’t explored and made visuals and cut outs for the same.
In these three weeks, although we worked with one city and looked at different aspects of it, each class was a little disconnected from the other. In the fifth week, everything finally came together and all the written work and visuals that we had made aided the final outcome of the project, which was a tunnel book.
In this fifth week, based on our complete understanding of the city from the work we had done, we wrote a story that was then translated into a tunnel book with 15 cut outs. For the tunnel book all the layers of the city that we had explored based on memory, constructed environments and semiotics came together to form one three dimensional visual. As we had worked with our cities over the period of four weeks in seminar and studio, it was much easier to construct a story and visualize it in the form of a tunnel book and elements from all our previous visuals seamlessly came together for the final outcome of the project.
I was walking down the street and I couldn’t stop staring at him
Wherever I went, he was always in my line of vision
Inverted, reflected mirroring my every action
His picture in my head leading to a chain reaction
His enchanting face his kept me in shackles, arrested
I couldn’t get him out even when I rested
Make it stop, please let me see,
Images of people that don’t look like me.
Living in Valdrada was not easy. As he woke up with the rising sun, he could already see a flash-forward of the rest of his day playing in his head. As he looked at his reflection in the lake stretching and getting out of bed, in his mind he could also see it two steps ahead, brushing his teeth and a few hours later walking down the railed street to meet his lover.
He had just woken up but he was so tired. He was tired of constantly knowing what was coming. He was tired of being so aware of his actions and of thinking so much about what he was doing, how he looked while he was doing it and how the world could see him. His mind was racing at the speed of light and he could not stop it even for a breath. He knew that the sacred lake of Valdrada had no mercy. It would reflect his every action. But it could also reflect his deepest thoughts and feelings. Nothing was private. That bothered him so much. For as long as he remembers, he’d never had a reckless moment or a private thought. Even as a young boy, he never did something silly like stealing candy from his mother’s jar because he knew that everyone could see it in the lake.
The voice of his conscience was the loudest voice in his head and the only one he listened to. What this voice didn’t tell him was that everyone in the city was experiencing the same thing. They would have care about how he looked in the lake but they were too engrossed looking at themselves, thinking about their own actions and concerned about how they looked in the lake. The sad part was none of them realized that this was a trap they had set up for themselves and that the world didn’t really see what they were doing or care about it. They were all anxious about their own reflections.
He reached the high street where they were going to meet and as they embraced each other he could not stop looking at his image in the lake and thinking about what that image was going to do. He loved her so much but he couldn’t get his own thoughts out of his head to make place for hers. He could never give attention to anybody but himself. He could not feel any moment because he was so concerned about the next. And he hated himself for it.
All he wanted was to stop hating himself. To be set free from the binds of the lake. To be able to spend just a few moments in her arms where he was not listening to his conscience. He wanted just one reckless moment that could outshine all the tiring memories he kept having of his future. He wanted one moment where he could interlock eyes with someone other than his own cold reflection. In his preoccupation, he didn’t know that she wished for the same thing and so did all the other people in Valdrada..
Identifying signs in the city of Valdrada and trying to understand what they literally and metaphorically convey about the nature of the city.
|Shores of a lake
||Edge of a large, still water body
||Refection of the city is formed
|Houses all verandas
||Everyone cans see everything
||People are open about their private lives
|(built) one above the other
||City built upwards
||Tall, haphazard skyline
||No defined structure
|High Streets with railed Parapets
||People are at great heights in the city
||Looking at yourself from a distance/ getting a higher perspective, while also protecting yourself from the fall
|Mirror Image/ Inverted
||Image of yourself
||Analyzing yourself/ how you see yourself
|Two identical (but not symmetrical) cities
||Two cities that appear to be the same
||Two versions of the city
||How you really are vs. how you see yourself
|Flutings and Juttings of facades
||Projections and pillars on the exterior of a building
||Outside appearance of the city
||How you project yourself into the world
|Ceilings/Floors/Perspective of halls/ Room interiors
||Interiors of the buildings
||What can be seen from the inside
||Feelings/emotions/personal thoughts that you don’t show to the world but can see in the mirror
|Eyes Interlocked (between the two cities)
||Looking at each other
||Constantly Judging your appearances
||Always aware of how you are looking/ how the world sees you
|No love between them
||Objective and criticizing view of yourself
How does Calvino describe his cities?
Valdrada is built on the shores of a lake with houses built one above the other. The streets in the city have railed parapets and look over the lake. From the flutings and juttings of facades to the perspective of halls and interiors of rooms, every point in Valdrada is also reflected upside down in the lake. Thus Calvino describes Valdrada as not one but two mirror cities.
What is the role that monuments play?
In the case of Valdrada, the monument described is probably the lake. This lake gives Valdrada it’s character and is sets this city apart from the others. The lake makes an immediate impression on a viewers mind since it holds the reflection of the entire city in it. This monument is not only striking to first time viewers but is also engraved in the minds of residents who have always lived in the city since they are aware of it constantly reflecting their every action.
How does the urban interact with the natural?
The built city of Valdrada is mirrored in the lake, which is the natural entity of the city. They interact as everything that happens in the city is reflected in the lake. The mirror gives urban life value. Although they are both visually symmetrical, both these cities are not equal and the mirror increases or decreases the value of events that occur in the city.
How do we distinguish between nature and man made?
In Valdrada, it may seem apparent that the buildings above the lake are man made while the lake is natural. However, since the lake is a reflection of the city and the two entities “live for each other”, after a while, it may become impossible to distinguish between the two.
The ratio of cattle to humans in New Zealand is 7:1. I know this because six years ago I visited a cattle-rearing facility in New Zealand called Agrodome. It was one of those things that most tourists that visit the country do. They had a stage where they displayed all the different kinds of sheep and how they are sheared. They also showed us how cows are milked and invited people from the audience to do the same. The show itself wasn’t very fun but Agodome had a very cute gift shop that sold sheep themed merchandise. It was there that I picked up a pouch that now epitomizes the entire trip for me. Being a stationary fanatic, as soon as I got home I stuffed my sheep with my arsenal of pens. Since that day, he’s been a close companion and has been there with me every step of the way. Several times I forgot to cap my pens and spilled ink all over his body but he never complained, he always had a sweet smile on his face. Over the years, despite all the times I washed him, his pure white fleece has collected dust and his zip has almost given way. My friends joke that I have a hard time letting people go and that it’s time for me to put my sheep away but I always refused to even consider the possibility. As I write this, I realize that he has been with me long enough and the time really has come for me to stop being so selfish. Yesterday at Kalaghoda I picked up a beautiful leather pouch that can take over the responsibilities of my sheep but he should know that he would never be forgotten. Years later, when I find him in some corner of my house, he will still bring back memories not only of Agrodome or New Zealand but also of all the years that followed.
Week 3, In class Assignment
Lower Parel is an area in the south of Bombay where the buildings slowly start climbing to great heights. These structures are built in clusters and from a distance, they look like they are made up of several small squares of glass fused together. Every morning people rush into these towers like swarms of flies. Throughout the day, they buzz in and out, their movements controlled by the needles of the clock. As the sun slowly sets, they swarm out again, leaving behind a deserted city made only of glass.