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Invisible Cities

Summerfield Gallery

Cheltenham, England, MAY 2010


Second Prize, Mobil is More

Hong Kong, 2009


London, England, 2009

‘I could tell you how many steps make up the streets rising like stairways, and the degree of the arcades’ curves, and what kind of zinc scales cover the roofs; but I already know this would be the same as telling you nothing. The city does not consist of this, but of relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past’ (Calvino, 1974: 10)

Reverie in the Invisible Cities


‘I could tell you how many steps make up the streets rising like stairways, and the degree of the arcades’ curves, and what kind of zinc scales cover the roofs; but I already know this would be the same as telling you nothing.  The city does not consist of this, but of relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past’ (Calvino, 1997: 9).

As an author begins his very first letter, the blank page was the prologue to the imaginary world. The blank pages began with continuing extruded stairs, which led from zero ground to the endless mountain tall. The mountain-tall stairs led him in a surreal climb amongst the enormous walls, which lay on both sides of the stairs. He climbed the blank stairs cautiously up to the high tip of the mountain; it was the beginning of his journey. ‘That what he sought was always something lying ahead, and even if it was a matter of the past it was a past that changed gradually as he advanced on his journey, because the traveller’s past changes according to the route he has followed’ (Calvino, 1997: 24).

First revealed, is a Y-junction for him to choose.  The beginning of choosing the route is also an opening of the texts.  The texts were printed everywhere on these mysterious spaces. Some of them were aligned; some of them were tilted and some of them could not even complete a sentence.  The texts on the stairs might become a clue for him to a further discovery; the texts on the walls formed a unique pattern waiting for him to decode the exploration. He saw two arches flying overhead; at the same time, his mind was on the wing as well as upon the imaginary texts. He thought this might be a place of reverie. These texts gave the vision of the journey. He followed the texts to move on, or perhaps he just stepped into his next movement subconsciously, because the unfinished sentences would not be the barrier for any matter.  He instinctively went straight ahead, although there were still too many routes in front of him.‘To go from one place to another you have always the choice between land and boat: and since the shortest distance between two points in Esmeralda is not a straight line but a zigzag that ramifies in tortuous optional routes, the ways that open to each passerby are never two, but many, and they increase further for those who alternate a stretch by boat with one on dry land’ (Calvino, 1997: 79).

He stamped his first foot on the route he chose and moved forward. These texts were occupied every single room, which had no concrete names.  They could be any neutral space awaiting viewers to give a daydream to it. It could be a corner; a corner a viewer had been in before. Furthermore, it could be something better than a corner. It could be a room perhaps; something bigger and could fit in all the memorable furniture. It was all about daydreams. The memories suddenly like a flash flood flowed into his daydream. His daydreams united the older memories as well as the corporeal spaces. Then the corporeal spaces became a fresh experience for him. A fresh experience that linked back to his older familiarities. Then it reminded him of recollection and imagination, as described by Gaston Bachelard.

The daydreams led him into the region of barely remembered recollection. This sparking daydream had been recalled from an older experience with countless connections.  He fell into the room; the room itself gave him the recognizable sense at the right moment. Moreover, it brought back the earlier memories and enlarged his imagination of it. Those elements overlapped and interacted with each other, deepening our emotions in the current space.  Emotion or sensation changed depending on how different people they gave character to the neutral space. The character-adjustment was based on the previous experience and older memories. They could be pleasurable or miserable and infuse the factual space with a narrative (Bachelard, 1994: 5). He thought about the way of Gaston Bachelard who described his place of reverie as absolutely factual. He at this point experienced exactly as the same reaction as Bachelard did in his daydream.

There were more routes waiting for him to move forward. However, he was still continuing to taste how the texts were influencing his daydream.  He tasted the texts repeatedly and wondered why he could acquire so many images from those spaces. Those spaces were only spaces with texts which had no decorations, no furnishing, and no furniture but still through reading the texts he even extended his fantasy. He had no idea which one influenced him better or perhaps both which became an unbreakable interdependence.

Barchelard’s thought again returned inward. He was reading a room at the moment. He soon lifted his mind off from the reading circumstance while he was reading the first letter and the opening paragraph. He started to reflect that it was somewhere he had been before (Bachelard, 1994: 14). And he somewhere appeared here in this current space. Was this a space an embodiment of déjà vu? Was this a text inducing déjà vu? The déjà vu space or the déjà vu text did not exist in reality. They combined together with older memory and, through the remaining texts, they would become an existence.

He came and went from a variety of routes and arranged different possibilities for them. ‘The network of routes is not arranged on one level, but follows instead an up-and-down course of steps, landings, cambered bridges, hanging streets. Combing segments of the various routes, elevated or on ground level, each inhabitant can enjoy every day the pleasure of a new itinerary to reach the same places’ (Calvino, 1997: 79). He got the pleasure an inhabitant had each day and suddenly realised the arrangement of the routes, the height of the stairs as well as the amount of the stairs, all of which followed their own rhythm. He made a small note of his discovery of the spaces as below:

What is the height of the stairs?

How many pages are there between two stairs?

How many steps are there in this space?

How big is the gap between the stairs and the wall?

How many pages are used to construct a wall?

How many degrees are there in the angle between two walls?

How many pages are used to build a room?

How many pages are dug out for the rooms?

How many pages are used to construct the ceilings?

How many rooms are there in the Invisible Cities?

The answers to the questions were very difficult for him. He tried hard to figure them out, even though he could only figure out a few of the rules behind it. He had to read it from ground to ceiling and from wall to wall carefully, otherwise he would fail to notice the secret code behind the spaces. As the secret code used a gentle way to tell viewers their stories, the viewers could easily ignore the fascination of the space. Then he found that the more he walked around, the more obsessed he became.  He sensed the space and was not aware of why he felt so familiar and content. Then he realised when he was an art student at the university. He had fallen in love with Escher while studying twentieth century design history and was enchanted by the delusion and complex visualisation he created, particularly Relativity (Locher, 1982: 306), which he finished in 1953. He knew the illusion in Escher’s works only existed in a two-dimensional world but he did discover some common qualities between the space and Relativity. He was delighted by the space taking him back to the good old memories. He could not stop himself from exploring more of the space. This is a labyrinth, and he was trapped into a labyrinthine complexity.

He thought he was indeed reading the concrete texts but somehow the texts took him into an intangible secession, one that vibrated the inner part of his memories. He could not distinguish how he increased recollection and memory of childhood from the concrete texts (Bachelard, 1994: 20) Alternatively and possibly, he did not need to read the texts; the texts had gone out of focus before now. He could not even scan through them, they became vague and blurred.  It became a part of his latent memories then he could unlimitedly return to his place of reverie and enjoy himself within it.  Let us ask; is this phenomenon a kind a delusion?  He once more trapped himself into this delusion of the space.  He strolled over and over again in the text of labyrinth, the memory aroused by the labyrinth and the space that encompassed the labyrinth.  He wondered how he could exit from the numerous labyrinths. And he could not stop asking himself:‘I could only question the philosophers. I entered the great library, I became lost among shelves collapsing under the vellum bindings, I followed the alphabetical order of vanished alphabets, up and down halls, stairs, bridges.  In the most remote papyrus cabinet, in a cloud of smoke’ (Calvino, 1997: 40).

This was the reverberated phenomenon of reading. It shortened the intimacy between the texts, the spaces and himself.  He gathered a massive reverberation from them and lifted his thoughts up into the atmosphere; where he could better discover the various of emotions contained within. Whether the emotions were negative or positive, content or cheerless, they initially provided the experience of something familiar. However, the more time spent in it, the less familiar it became. Then, unexpectedly, he thought himself the king of the place of reverie (Berger, 1982:8-9). The following thought then popped into his mind:‘That my empire is made of the stuff of crystals, its molecules arranged in a perfect pattern. Amid the surge of the elements, a splendid hard diamond takes shape, an immense, faceted transparent mountain’ (Calvino, 1997:51).

The text reunited again sooner than it vanished; the text separated once more before it was recollected. However, the reunion and separation of the texts would never stop his thoughts. He had faith that, when he finished discovering of all the texts and all the pages, he would be able to tie the whole story together.  It also reminded him of Gestalt psychology. There was a visual field in the world of human’s visualization. The scenarios of people being educated and living was a sensory field. When people received perception from the visual field, they took the opportunity to use them and furthermore to complete the whole. 

All of the elements would be gathered together because of the sympathetic force and then the elements affected one another in the visual field. The elements would either be a magnet for each other or be mutually exclusive. The power of the sympathetic force was controlled by the size, quantity, position and closeness of the elements. Then, much of the power of the sympathetic forces was constructed with the completed whole. 

Within Gestalt psychology, each single changed element would be affected by the characteristics of the elements and the whole. (Köhle, 1992:162-164) On the other hand, the way in which humans sensed an element was in accordance with the scenario and the condition that it had in the visual field. The various elements that lived in the visual field of the human environment would group every element together; otherwise, it would be led in the opposite direction then become ungrouped.

He again put himself back into this current space at the moment. A letter from a phrase, a sentence from a paragraph, a corner from two walls, or walls constructed a room where all became a kind of element in the visual field of Gestalt psychology. And he sensed the current space with his older recollection, and earlier experience became a sensory field. When the visual field joined together with the sensory field, it consisted of a narration to the current space.

He thought that the human mind was an amazing container, which preserved plenty of thoughts within it. The human thoughts consisted of five senses from the past, present, and future. They dwelled in our body, or more precisely, in our mind. The five senses from the past, present and future controlled our responses and reactions to the outer environment. That was why the inner part of our mind was always interacting with the outer surroundings all the time.

He looked back to the space, and asked himself: wasn’t the space a container as well? A space needing many of elements to construct. For instance, it needed a shell for its appearance and protection and furnishings for comfort and individuality. The standard of demands for a space was relatively simple and similar. However, a human with his unique personality dwelled in a shell and varied a space with a vivid character and at the same time individuality (Zumthor,2006:39). What gives a space a vivid character and individuality? He thought that previous experience and older recollection made a space come alive. However, each space would not eternally remain the same and would alter as time passed. When time passed, it transited a young experience to an older one as well as a fresh memory to an older one. It will be adjusted from time to time without announcement.

He noticed that, when he was playing with a Rubik’s cube that he received the same inspiration as well. He used the same theory to walk across the labyrinthine routes as he was on his way to finding a solution to the Rubik’s cube.  The complex routes awaiting him would be unpredictable. He thought that the more unpredictable they were the more fascinating they would be, so he might need a lifetime of experience to support his place of reverie.

He gathered more and more thoughts while he was walking around the space repeatedly. He spent time absorbing the various order of the routes. He moved up and down, crossed from vertical steps to horizontal places, and the complicated routes would not stop his movement. He kept exploring and kept spending time on it. He clearly realized that the similarity of the order of the steps, routes, walls, and rooms were very alike, alike but not exactly the same. They were more like mirrors, mirroring upside down or inside out. ‘Thus the traveller, arriving, sees two cities: one erect about the lake, and the other reflected, upside down. Nothing exists or happens in the one Valdrada that the other Valdrada does not repeat. Because the city was so constructed that its very point would be reflected in its mirror, and the Valdrada down in the water contains not only all the flutings and juttings of the facades that rise about the lake, but also the rooms’ interior with ceilings and floors, the perspective of the halls, the mirrors of the wardrobes’(Calvino, 1997: 45).

The spaces seemed to continue to repeat but were unlikely to be reproduced. He was confused by the complexity. He wished that he had a pair of x-ray eyes to scan the extraordinary structures. He also wished he was a bird with wings to overview the whole. Moreover, he wished he was a reader who could flip through the pages one to another to understand the construction of the space.

Still, he was still walking around the spaces. He kept wondering was he able to find the way out or was he enjoying to linger in them? There was too much information involved in the spaces whatever from physical structures to emotional senses, or from latest experiences to older recollections, he did discover something deeper on himself.  Because he knew the spaces with texts did assist him collected all of the above together and allowed him understand himself better. Apart from being trapped into the trick by the space’s creator, he thought this might be a new way of travelling. A new way that everyone could adopt it. No matter whether one lived in the cellar of the wine château, or whether one lived in the attic of concrete apartment. No matter whether one was stubborn, or one was gracious. No matter one was rich or poor; they all could create their own journey, whenever they like. It was a new generation travelling (De Maistre, 2004:3).

 ‘I have been teaching you to recognize the evidence through which the world speaks to us like a great book’ (Eco, 1984:23).



The story was constructed with the six cuttings into existing books, which composed my invisible city. Every paragraph from the story followed the routes of the six cut books. From the endless mountain tall stairs, Y-junction, two flying-arches, the labyrinthine routes, to blurred-texts, all absorbed the vibration of Calvino’s Invisible Cities. The vibration interwove a reflection of my daydreams, recollections, and thoughts into the six cut books.


The structure of the story was set up the rules of the encounter between Calvino and myself.  The journey began with grey font of my story knitted together with black font of original texts from Calvino’s Invisible Cities. And between Calvino and myself, we also came across Bachelard, Berger, De Maistre, Eco, and Zumthor. The questions in the story were about the Multiple of three, which were mentioned quite a few times in Calvino’s texts. The multiple of three provided a strong direction for the cut as well as becoming the major architectural element which appeared in the cut books universally. Furthermore, the missing words were the city’s name, which played a metaphor of Invisible Cities that placed in between the story.


My expectation between the story and the cut books was to present an invisible territory that could be discovered by today’s cultural nomads. The wide rage of the invisible territory is exited on the mind of one’s reveries as well as on the innumerable literatures.

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