Invisible City

With cities, it is as with dreams: everything imaginable can be dreamed, but even the most unexpected dream is a rebus that conceals a desire or, its reverse, a fear. Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.

– Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities


Beneath every city is a secret place, the sub-city that forms in technicolour waves as we move through it, as we experience it in person. There are thousands of different lives any one person could live here, thousands of potential ‘normals.’ All our perceptions of Calgary are stacked on top of each other like multiple-exposures, and the overlap between these images creates the city itself.

Superimposed City

Even as born Calgarians, our experience of Calgary is always changing – we’re constantly uncovering some new, unknown aspect of living in this place + space. Forest Lawn is very different than Marda Loop is very different than Bowness is very different than Mackenzie Town is very different than Manchester is very different than Sunnyside is very different than Whitehorn, and so on. Even within our shared spaces, the hours we work or sleep impact our experiences of the same place. The reasons we visit a neighbourhood dramatically modify our impressions of that community. Our feeling of belonging (or not belonging) taint everything we see.

Invisible Cities - calgary

The Invisible City Survey borrows its title from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Citiesa fictional novel wherein Marco Polo describes a series of lush and diverse cities to Kublai Khan. Over the course of the book, it becomes apparent that, despite varied descriptions, each city could be one facet of the same city as seen through the eyes of different people. Marco Polo draws “connections between cities and memory, desire, signs, eyes, names, the dead, and the sky” and “types of cities: thin cities, trading cities, continuous cities, and hidden cities.” The allegory of Invisible Cities can apply to experiences of any city, especially cities with large populations, embedded immigrant communities, constant flux, and tender histories.


We developed the Invisible City Survey to emphasize the disconnect between man’s regimented process of dividing land (surveys), the land’s natural divisions (rivers), and the power of people’s perception to transform any given place. Drawing inspiration from Invisible Cities’, we intend to use answers from the Invisible City Surveys to collaboratively co-produce the text inscribed into the survey monuments with the public. The Survey will invite all Calgarians to participate while in places of transit (on the bike path, on the bus, on the train, in cars, etc) by answering two simple questions:

  1. Where are you going?
  2. Where do you want to be?

Intended to tap into the undercurrents of the city, our textual emphasis will be on imaginary and invisible spaces. As artists, we’ll collect the text submitted to us and interpret it into 38 characters or less, and then inscribe the most interesting increments onto the survey monuments. In this sense, the public will participate directly in the process of making Public Art, investing the work with a deeper layer of meaning and rooting it firmly within the context of Calgary.

Survey Monument - sample edit
Sample Survey Monument (brass)

As decades pass, the text on these markers will form a patina, and then slowly be worn away by the movement of people through the Delta Garden space – like the riverbank, the text itself will change over time, eroding underfoot. Instead of triangulating space, our survey monuments will be transformed from a geometric to symbolic unit of measurement, a social map of desire lines.

Perhaps by collecting a diverse spectrum of perspectives, our own invisible city will be illuminated, and we will find some common ground between us.

You’re invited to participate in the Invisible City Survey HERE.

Survey Markers Photo - sm
Concrete test with survey markers

Copyright Statement - Invisible City Survey

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