Invisible Cities and My Utopia

Discovering we would be exploring the idea of ‘Invisible Cities’ or hidden cities in this module really excited me and encapsulated my interests, making my mind race with questions.  To apply these hidden cities to our own work in Site Specific throughout this term just amplified my desire to get stuck into this module.

One of the first questions that came to mind was ‘what is Site Specific Performance?’My initial thought was a performance, performed in a specific or unique location, but not in a standard theatre. However on research one found that a Site Specific Performance does not necessarily have to be performed at the place or site on which it is based on. You can have any place or site imitate another, you just need to apply the context and feeling. Continue reading “Invisible Cities and My Utopia”

Invisible Cities and The Idea of Utopia

On hearing about the Site Specific module and the basis for this being Invisible Cities, I was intrigued as to what this module was going to entail. The idea of an Invisible City excited me and I couldn’t wait to get started and find out more about what an invisible city actually was. The only Instruction we were given as a class before the first session was to bring in a lot of ‘stuff’ and to read extracts from the novel Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. This very general definition of ‘stuff’ meant that anything from toilet rolls to doyleys and shot glasses were brought in by members of the class, but still there was no idea as to why these objects were needed. Tim Cresswell suggests that ‘what begins as undifferentiated space becomes place as we get to know it better and endow it with value…..the ideas ‘space’ and ‘place’ require each other for definition’ ((Cresswell, Tim 2004, Place A Short Introduction Blackwell Publishing p.8)) What site specific means to one person may be completely different to what it means to another as it is personal to the performer themselves.

The novel, Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino is one which describes several cities through the eyes of one of the main characters, an explorer Marco Polo. the novel acts as a conversation between Marco Polo and the emperor Kublai Khan, whose merchants constantly describe to him his ever expanding empire.  The following quote I feel, is very deep and powerful and in my opinion really sums up the entire novel, “Arriving at each new city, the traveller finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.” ((Calvino, Italo (2004) Invisible Cities Vintage Classics, p.34)) This quote really captured the idealistic values of the novel as when visiting a new place for the first time, you can essentially find out things about yourself you did not know.

Further more, after a discussion on the novel, the attention was focussed on the idea of Utopia and what it meant. At first I thought there was a straight answer to this question, but it became evident that the idea of Utopia was completely different to each individual when it was time to create our own utopian cities with the ‘stuff’ we had collected. On reflection of my own utopian city and the feedback from the class, it was clear that my idea of Utopia was based around symmetry and order; a place where every space is utilised and blends in. I chose to use a lot of pink as it’s a warm colour and one which always fills me with a feeling of calmness and serenity. It was likened to a ‘Barbie Palace’ by members of the class and I can understand why this was although it was not my initial intention. As with the age old saying ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, the same goes for the Utopian ideals.


A Pretty Utopia to A Pretty Lincoln

My inspiration for this specific blog post has come from exploring my Utopia. Looking back at my creation of a Utopia I used many ‘pretty pink’ objects, so I wanted to take a small section of my ‘made up’ Utopia  into the city of Lincoln, so I could make Lincoln as close to my Utopia as physically possible. To do this I wandered around Lincoln and placed homemade ‘pretty’ notes in unexpected places. The notes consisted of being wrapped in tissue paper with bows or ribbon wrapped around and the notes contained messages such as, ‘have nice day’. The photos below are the evidence.

Pretty Thing Pretty Thing

Pretty Things Place1

Place1 Postbox

Brick Handle

Water Bush

The following day I walked around Lincoln to see if my pretty messages had been taken, I could not find one. Did you find one?

What is Site Specific?

As our group approached this question we all had our own ideas;

Idea 1: taking a piece of theatre and adapting the text to the chosen site

Idea 2: using a site and making the performance ‘specific’ and particular to the chosen site

Idea 3: a piece of theatre unique to that place

Pearson states the term Site Specific is, ‘site-determined, site orientated, site-referenced, site conscious, site responsive, site-related’. (Pearson 2010, p. 1)

Exploring Pearson I learned the term Site Specific means the space around you influences the performance, as the piece of theatre moves from a known stage to elsewhere, a place where theatre is not usually performed, as Jen Harvie states, ‘to identify performance that was produced in non-theatre sites, aimed to engage directly with the meaning and history of those sites, and went out to audiences who might not normally come to the theatre.’ (Harvie 2006, p.149)

After understanding the term Site Specific we explored Erving Goffman and his belief of performance being in everyday life. As a group we explored our own experiences of performance in everyday life, one example being outside Buckingham Palace, as the guards form a ‘performance’ which consists of no dialogue or movement but to stand outside Buckingham Palace. Looking closer into experiences and life performances a group member witnessed a few hundred police officers outside Buckingham Palace for six hours, waiting, just so the Queen could depart Buckingham Palace in a car. I questioned, is this ‘performance’ necessary or needed? How expensive would that ‘performance’ be as all the police men would have to be paid? And does this display of public officers attract the wrong kind of attention?

When questioning the use of a ‘site’, do we take the site itself as a host to the visitor? Can the site be a person? A culture, presence or object? After exploring the term Site Specific we explored Lefebrve who is best known for pioneering the critique of everyday life. ‘Lefebvre asserts in Right to the City that utopia should be considered experimentally by studying its implications and consequences on the ground. These can surprise. What are and what would be the most successful places? How can they be discovered? According to which criteria? What are the times and rhythms of daily life which are inscribed and prescribed in these “successful” spaces favourable to happiness? That is interesting.’ (Milgrom,2008, p.277) Relating to Lefebrve’s argument, the entire group found interest in creating their individual utopia. When exploring our own utopia, an idyllic place full of individual loves, as a class we saw each and everyone’s specific site for them. But exploring Lefebrve, how do we know what utopia is, if we have not experienced the bad?

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As I made my Utopia using rubbish people brought in they did not want anymore, I plastered my Utopia with pink objects, which gained comments such as; ‘fairy tale’, ‘happiness’, ‘love,’ ‘overly nice’, ‘hiding things away and ignoring the bad’ and a ‘Disney’ Utopia. When creating my Utopia I used pink due to it being my favourite colour, I explored the use of toilet rolls making them into little houses for all my family and friends, keeping a close community within Utopia. There is a pink train in my Utopia to connote freedom physically and mentally. My Utopia overall allows my happy personality to show through, influenced by the artist Flâner,  when my city was observed and when people interacted with my city, I wanted them to see site specific to the individual, me.

Works Cited

Pearson, Mike (2010) Site specific performance, Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Harvie, Jen (2006) The Routledge Companion to Theatre and Performance, Routledge, New York.

Milgrom, Richard (2008) Design, difference, everyday life, Reading Henri Lefebvre, Routledge, New York.

Invisible Cities and My Utopia

The main source for our performance is Calvino’s Invisible Cities which is all about Marco Polo telling Kublai Khan about all the places he has visited and explored. When we were looking at this we discovered the idea of what is an utopia. Utopia is an ideal place, it’s stylized and idealistic, and so everybody’s utopia would be individual and reflect that person’s personality. As a class we were set a task to make our own utopia out of junk and unwanted possessions and rubbish brought in by the class.


The utopia I created had no enclosed spaces, I can see out of all the sheltered areas. This means there is no place where I can feel claustrophobic. The ground is made out of bubble wrap which has texture and can open up my senses.  To improve I would have different types of ground such as grass, sand, woodland and pebble beach as they all create different feelings as I walk barefoot across them. There are paths that lead me directly from one location to another but I also have the option to get away from the paths and explore. I have a river running through my utopia as water is the means of life, and it is also very calming and adds a tranquil feeling. I love the idea of being outdoors so I created a tree I would have created more, however I ran out of time. This would provide me with useful raw materials to create a fire for light and warmth. The glow sticks add light so in my utopia it would never be fully dark. I am a fun loving person so I have used many bright colours to show this. My utopia is full of sensory experience using different textures, smells, colours and sounds.

When looking at all the utopias in the class, several of them used similar themes; the idea of feeling safe and needing protection, wanting to be seen or to see others. Many include pathways and gateways some to keep people out and some to let people in. The overarching theme of all the utopias is that they were places that made their builders feel happy.