Dissolving Spaces: Cities and Memory

Returning to a city after many years is both pleasurable and vexing.

You are both resident and stranger. The shapes, sounds, and smells have both changed and remained the same.

My three major “homes” so far—Manila, New York, and Barcelona—are all port cities. In both historic and modern times, they have been the site of international trade, cultural intermixing, and political upheavals. Their faces dissolve and stabilize with the ebb and flow of both tide and time.

I am reminded of Cities of You, a beautiful project by Brian Foo, a web developer and “joy evangelist” whom I first encountered online when he submitted a sketch for DrawHappy.

Cities of You is a project that envisions people as imaginary places. It was inspired by Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. Each artwork represents a person and also a relationship. Brian writes:

“I travel through each city and describe their special properties—how the buildings are built, how the people live, its history, culture, and reputation. As the project progresses, I revisit some cities, describing how they evolve over time or enter unexplored parts of the cities. The intended result is to be able to imagine relationships as dynamic spaces in which one can visit, walk through, and explore.”

I enthusiastically backed his Kickstarter project, which surpassed his initial goal of $2,000 and raised $11,000. The project is the publication of the first 41 cities he designed. His book is a gorgeous labor of love, alive with drawings, paintings, and prose. An overwhelming response from his supporters also led him to upgrade all the rewards, including a lifetime of gifts. (Yes, you read that right. I and 140 other backers are looking forward to receiving annual presents for the rest of our lives.)

Cities of You, volume 1. Image by Brain Foo via his Kickstarter project page

A couple of weeks ago,  Brian drew me as a city, too. Voila, I’m City #44! It’s quite an honor. Even though we haven’t known each other for very long, I think he nailed it:

“If you walk through the city of Orynnaci, the buildings are tall, bare, and ordinary. However, if you stare at a building, look away, then look back again, the building may change. Or sometimes, a building can disappear, or merge with another one. As a tourist, you may begin to recognize past cities you have visited if you stare long enough. Some buildings lose their form entirely. Walk down Main Street and you will see most citizens standing still with their head tilted back, tracing shapes with an outstretched arm. On the face of city hall, three words are inscribed in Latin, loosely translating to ‘Imagination, Perception, Metaphor’.” —Brian Foo

City #44: Orynnaci
24 x 18″, Gouache and Colored Pencil on Paper
Image and Text copyright by Brian Foo

Visit the project’s site here.

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