I chose Octavia because I liked the idea of a hanging city, fragile and beautiful in disguise. To me, it was both unique and deadly at the same time. The passage by Italo Calvino can be found below:
“If you choose to believe me, good. Now I will tell you how Octavia, the spider-web city, is made. There is a precipice between two steep mountains: the city is over the void, bound to the two crests with ropes and chains and catwalks. You walk on the little wooden ties, careful not to set your foot in the open spaces, or you cling to the hempen strands. Below there is nothing for hundreds and hundreds of feet: a few clouds glide past; farther down you can glimpse the chasm’s bed.
This is the foundation of the city: a net which serves as passage and as support. All the rest, instead of rising up, is hung below: rope ladders, hammocks, houses made like sacks, clothes hangers, terraces like gondolas, skins of water, gas jets, spits, baskets on strings, dumb-waiters, showers, trapezes and rings for children’s games, cable cars, chandeliers, pots with trailing plants.
Suspended over the abyss, the life of Octavia’s inhabitants is less uncertain than in other cities. They know the net will only last so long.”
What stood out to me immediately was the sense of loss and death inferred from the last line of the passage, whereby the inhabitants know that the location is dangerous and one day, they could all fall.
I began by searching for visual inspiration online, to see what others thought the city looked like.
After getting inspiration from these sources, I decided I wanted to play with string as a medium, given that string and rope were the very elements that gave and controlled life and death of the city. Then, I also thought of the causes of death, and instead of the inhabitants falling off that caused the entire city’s demise, I came up with my own statistics and thought that it would be interesting if something else caused the all the deaths, and I wanted it to be also related to the entire structure falling. Therefore, I reached a conclusion that fire would be the cause.
I started by drawing out and making notes, creating statistics that recorded all the deaths in the city. And where there is death, there is life. So I also wanted the births of babies in Octavia to be noted down as well.
In the end, I came up with a booklet, sort of like an old fashioned hand made journal (given that Octavia was supposed to be read to Kublai Khan, who was alive in 1200s. The entire book was envisioned to be very tactile and physical, instead of a softcopy.
Below are the photos of the pages of the book, with each page showing three months of the year, as well as documenting the different seasons and timeline (it’s over a year because a typical industrial rope would usually last about a year if used daily), so one could see the relation between deaths and time.