When invisible cities become real

"Stepping Stones" - Map by Emily GarfieldBoston - “The ancients built Valdrada on the shores of a lake, with houses all verandas one above the other, and high streets whose railed parapets look out over the water. Thus the traveler, arriving, sees two cities: one erect above 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 every 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 above the lake, but also the rooms’ interiors with ceilings and floors, the perspective of the halls, the mirrors of the wardrobes […]”. (I. Calvino)

Life, as well as architecture and art, is a matter of chance encounter. I like thinking that somehow Emily Garfield and Italo Calvino, at some point in their lives, met each other and maybe had a coffee together. A coffee that might have fallen on the table, on a white napkin from which a new type of art started. Their meeting is definitely ideal, but what Emily experienced and managed to visualize, also thanks to Calvino’s words, is definitely more than real.

Never-never lands seem to pop out of paper with delicate watercolored tones, like places that once upon a time were inhabited and full of life. These creations seem to take whomever is observing them on a flight-trip around the world tickling each “passenger’s mind” and fostering his creativity, his imaginary world. In a world that is overpopulated, filled with pollution, crimes and cruel reality, Emily’s cities represent all those perfect places – the ideal urban hubs where to live happily. It seems like she has a unique capacity of listening to citizens’ dreams and translating them on paper, into their ideal places.

Emily seems to be mostly inspired by the feeling cities give to her. The same process is applied anytime she draws am abstract pattern. She could possibly think of a million different invisible places but they would all be pictured with some common peculiarities such as historical elements (or, most likely, preexisting geographic elements) and an organic fractal feel.

When asked to talk about her imaginary cartography, she said: “My intricate pen and watercolor drawings are inspired by the visual language of maps, as well as the fractal similarity that cities share with biological processes such as the patterns of cells and neurons. I invent each place as I draw, thinking about clustering of neighborhoods, patterns of roads and the individual selective memory that an inhabitant would use to navigate their city. The physical materials also influence each work; the topography of watercolor paper, the force of gravity on ink, or the tensile limitations of paper all structure my drawings in the same way that a landscape influences urban growth.”


Emily Garfield creates intricate maps of imaginary places that explore the origins of cities and the function of maps themselves. She received her BA in Visual Arts from Brown University, where she also pursued studies in the brain’s response to art and aesthetic beauty through the Cognitive Science department. She has participated in exhibitions throughout the greater Boston area as well as New York and Philadelphia. Her work is in the collection of the Kamm Teapot Foundation as well as numerous private collections. She was kind enough to let us steal her bio from her website.

Here are some suggestions on where to go and travel through these beautiful imaginary places during the summer: July 10 – August 3: The Inside-Out Gallery is showing installation of maps and origami birds on the theme of “Migration”, the theme of this year’s ArtBeat. July 16 – September 16: showing two new colorful water-resist maps in an art show at Boomerangs in Central Square. The show is run by Boston Art Underground, and a portion of sales benefit the AIDS Action Committee. Saturday, July 21st, 11-6pm: ArtBeat in Davis Square is going to show an interactive, crowd-sourced map project. Saturday, August 25th, 11-6pm: Picnic Music + Arts Festival in Portland, ME.


For whomever is still curious and wants to read the end of Valdrada’s story, here it goes:

     “Valdrada’s inhabitants know that each of their actions is, at once, that action and its mirror-image, which possesses the special dignity of images, and this awareness prevents them from succumbing for a single moment to chance and forgetfulness. Even when lovers twist their naked bodies, skin against skin, seeking the position that will give one the most pleasure in the other, even when murderers plunge the knife into the black veins of the neck and more clotted blood pours out the more they press the blade that slips between the tendons, it is not so much their copulating or murdering that matters as the copulating or murdering of the images, limpid and cold in the mirror.
     At times the mirror increases a thing’s value, at times denies it. Not everything that seems valuable above the mirror maintains its force when mirrored. The twin cities are not equal, because nothing that exists or happens in Valdrada is symmetrical: every face and gesture is answered, from the mirror, by a face and gesture inverted, point by point. The two Valdradas live for each other, their eyes interlocked; but there is no love between them”. (I.Calvino)

Profile photo of Francesca Gordini About Francesca Gordini

Born in 1985 in Forli', a city on the eastern coast of Italy between the Adriatic sea and the Appennini mountains, Francesca was raised in an architectural and historical environment that inevitably touched her artistic sensitivity and led her to architecture school.
In fact she graduated with a Master's Degree at Faculty of Architecture "Aldo Rossi" - Alma Mater Studiorum Bologna in 2010, where she was taught that good architects can design "from the spoon to the town" (E.N.Rogers). This slogan prevented her from focusing only on a specific field while trying, instead, to experience every field of design. All in all we can design a chair, the same way we design a skyscraper.
She moved to Boston almost right after graduating. Here, trying to pursue further her passion for architecture, she has been involved in the Common Boston 2012 team, architectural lectures, artistic events and mainly the collaboration at the firm Carr, Lynch and Sandell, inc.
Almost bi-language, being an extremely creative and versatile person, Francesca enjoys photography and painting.
In leisure she likes climbing and flying on silks, in fact she joined a team of Aerial Dance: a way of experiencing life from different perspective. (For more of Francesca's work, click on her name at top of article)