25 February 2012

Invisible Cities

The brilliant Italian novelist Italo Calvino has long been one of my favorite authors. Always pushing the boundaries of literature, he wrote with an amazing flair to vividly conjure up imaginary places and situations. Among his most famous works is Invisible Cities (Le città invisibili), published in 1972 (although personally I have always most loved the book that immediately followed in 1979, If on a winter's night a traveler (Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore)).

So when NicoleX Moonwall told me about a week ago that a collaboration was about to open at LEA15 called Invisible Cities I was excited to see what it would be, knowing also the names of the artists involved. Thirteen prominent Second Life creators participated: Cherry Manga, Marcus Inkpen, Fuschia Nightfire, Romy Nayar, Ux Hax, Hypatia Pickens, Lanjran Choche, NicoleX Moonwall, Rebeca Bashly, Spiral SilverStar, Leona80 Mhia and Nadiemekiere Adamczyk. (And it opened today, on my 4th rezday, so I decided to consider it a gift haha.)

In the book Invisible Cities, the explorer Marco Polo tells the aging emperor Kublai Khan of the cities he has visited, each city being a short vingnette. By the end of the book we are not quite sure they are all real, or even if they are different cities. For the Second Life installation, the artists selected four of these cities: Eudoxia, Armilla, Isaura and Emeralda.

As you arrive at Invisible Cities, you'll find yourself in a gateway area with doors to all the cities (photo at top—click to zoom in). This "ground floor" was developed by Cherry Manga. The doorways to the cities are all imaginative transport vehicles, and an additional place, Calvino's desk, is reached via a bubble set apart a bit from the other teleports.

The first city is Eudoxia (Floor 1, image above) by Marcus Inkpen, whose work I adore. It's the most "traditional" of the cities, suggestive of an old European space, but there's a surreal, dreamlike quality to it. Perhaps in a Kafkaesque way, all paths that lead off the main square seem to go nowhere, and are all nearly but not quite identical.

The second city, Armilla (Floor 2), by Romy Nayar and Ux Hax, is an alien world of railings, winding circular staircases, bathtubs (some of which you ride in), and slowly ascending lamps. There's lots of activity here, as if something is purposefully happening or going on, but what that purpose is is hidden from us. Overhead a large female shape gazes down, perhaps controlling or just observing.

The city of Isaura (Floor 3), by Lanjran Choche and Morlita Quan, is a city of words and phrases. Fragments of sentences stream by, surrounded by pipes and tubing. Here near the center and toward the bottom you can obtain a bubble transport—it can be a little hard to find, and the original entrance can be too—it's at 68/72.

The final city, Emeralda (Floor 5), by Rebeca Bashly, really is somewhat invisible—its buildings are partially transparent, and although we can see the insides we cannot enter. This is a water city, with gondolas (you can get your own at the landing point).

And there's one more destination: Calvino's Desk. You can reach this by teleporting from a bubble at the Ground Floor, and here you will find the passages from Calvino's book on each of the four cities, although you might find them easier to read on the installation's website (which curiously speaks of Calvino in the present tense, although he passed away in 1985).

Speaking of websites, the machinima created for this project is every bit as important as the physical installation. Invisible Cities has its own YouTube channel here, with five videos to view. Enjoy, and thanks to all the artists who brought this work together—I'd like to think that Calvino would have been delighted.

P.S. I'll be posting images on my flickr stream.


  1. Thank you for the informative post and the marvellous photos.

  2. You're very welcome, Charolotte! (Really, they're just photos of amazing work by other creators, so I hesitate to take any credit!) :)

    And ... everyone reading ... if you don't know Charolotte's excellent blog, which has more great photography and lots of other goodies, it's here:

  3. Thank you very much for the compliments.