15 May – 19 June 2018
I_S_L_A_N_D_S is pleased to present “… the invisible reasons which make cities live…”, a series of diagrammatic studies by Berny Tan. The studies function as the artist’s personal exercises in understanding Italo Calvino’s 1972 novel Invisible Cities, a book that has both fascinated and perplexed her since she first read it nine years ago.
A deconstruction of the travel literature genre, Invisible Cities imagines an extended conversation in which the explorer Marco Polo describes fifty-five fictitious cities to the emperor Kublai Khan. The novel meditates not just on the idiosyncrasies of our built environment, but also on the heterogeneity of human experience, and even on the nature of reality itself. It has an intriguing mathematical structure – eleven themes of five cities each overlap across nine chapters, interspersed with interactions between Polo and Khan.
Calvino wrote of the novel: “I built up a many-faceted structure in which each brief text is close to the others in… a network in which one can follow multiple routes and draw multiple, ramified conclusions.” Rejecting the more predictable approach of illustrating Calvino’s rich visual imagery, the artist instead treats the novel as a data set, submerging herself in the “network” – or indeed, networks – that Calvino has constructed. By obsessively mapping the novel’s underlying systems, the artist proposes alternative ways of reading and interpreting the information contained within its pages, each diagram a new encounter with Calvino’s enigmatic universe.
Berny Tan, “… the invisible reasons which make cities live…”, 2018, digital print on paper, pins, pearl cotton thread, yarn, stickers, dimensions variable. Installation view at I_S_L_A_N_D_S.