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“Arriving at each new city, the traveler 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.”
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

In 1972, Italo Calvino authored ‘Invisible Cities’, a book that delights in the conversations between two people who do not speak the same language, yet find immeasurable means of communication. In it, the explorer Marco Polo describes 55 different cities to the famed emperor Kublai Khan through a series of poetic allusions and ingenious allegories.  A city, in the eyes of Calvino, is brought to life not by the physical structures of concrete and steel, but by the moments – ephemeral and intangible – that occur in between these imagined spaces.

For Gustàv Hàmos and Katja Pratschke, the collaborators who bring us the photo-film exhibit ‘SAMPLE CITIES/ IMAGINARY SPACES’, Calvino’s novel offers inspiration in more than just one way. Hamos has been a practicing artist for over four decades- mostly making photographs and films, but also dabbling in performance along the way. His archive of city-scape photographs extends into the thousands, but it was only through conversation with his collaborator Pratschke, who saw in those photographs this similarity with Calvino’s themes- did the idea for this exhibition occur.


True to Calvino’s original, Hàmos and Pratschke invent and re-write their own cities, 7 of which are displayed at Khoj’s studio. While each is a tableaux of multiple photographs, one differs vastly from next conveying with it a completely different set of stories and emotions. Although the source images are made in only 3 cities – Berlin, Budapest and New York (all taken in the 1970’s) – the experience of viewing the images along with the descriptions provided by the artists in completely transportive. The feeling is akin to once again being a child slipping into the fantastic world of Dr.Seuss or some such author who lets imaginations run unbridled and creates surreally fantastic worlds.

Anselma is the city of possibilities. It is a city without a definite shape or form, a city that is constantly changing. The images are shot in black and white, digitally printed and mounted without glass or frames, a decision which offers certain accessibility- despite the distancing between object and viewer that a black and white image can create. The assemblage of the work reflects the unpredictability of the described city- Hàmos chooses to install part of the triptych in the form of insect like creature- the photographs creeping like extended arms up and down the wall. He changes the installation of this work to suit the space he’s in, suggesting Anselma takes on new identity in every new space that it inhabits.


Kassandra is a city of signs and riddles. It is a city of symbols- an indication of a thing is a signifier of the existence or happening of another action or moment. As you walk down into the Khoj space, the large tableaux block of photos that you see immediately catches your eye.  The whole city is caught in reflections. Images of clouds are layered over tall steel buildings curving in the glass pane of a passing car. At a glance, the works appear to be mostly pale shades of blue- caused by sky caught in the reflections. But there are flashes are violent red, and in one corner a  single yellow flow is spotted, hiding between the monotony of the blue sky and glassy grey buildings, bringing out the unexpected, secret life of Kassandra.

Felicita is a city bathed in light – its colour palate can only be described as that constant fluctuating, shimmering iridescence once catches in a puddle of water or a drop of rain. The arrangement of the photos of the wall also suggest this constantly shifting nature of an iridescent shade – at one glance the works seems to be hung in a disarrayed manner, but peering closer there is a perfectly disorganized symmetry that the lines of the installation obey.

Procopius is a personal favourite. It is an industrial city, described by its construction and the convoluted layout of its streets. Hàmos has taken these images at night – long exposure shots that capture the soft, mesmerizing quality of late nights lit by different moons and different stars. From one end of the room to the other, these large scale prints capture the rainbow effect of late-night skies, through their quiet nature. One of the few works that are not digitally printed, these photographs have a soft, alluring lustrous quality. Hàmos points out the stars that appear in one of the photographs – rather than specks in the sky, they appear as pale white lines, describing the movement of the sky as he captured his image. Procopius may be described as a city of construction and industry, but the images allow the view to become transported into a world where the harsh reality of mechanical cranes and gratified concrete walls are juxtaposed against melancholic skies aching towards dawn.

The other cities on display equivalently conjure slightly obscure tales and skylines, the photographs of each tableaux coming together to form a patchwork tapestry. While each photograph within the larger tableaux tells its own individual tale, it is the composite reading of the collection that offers depth and richness to the artists created landscapes. For Hàmos, it is difficult to describe the quality of a space through images of its popular sights and well-established cultural icons. This was third visit to India, and when I enquired as to his interests in sight-seeing and arranging visits to Humayan’s Tomb, Red Fort and the like – he scrunched his face is dis-interest. For him, a postcard he would make of Delhi would be the battered streets of Khirki, or the insides of the Rajiv Chowk metro station, or even the sleek interiors of the malls across the Khoj building- all sites of possible re-imagination and re-configuration for the next edition of the SAMPLE CITIES/IMAGINARY SPACES exhibition…


SAMPLE CITIES / IMAGINARY SPACES has been organized in collaboration with the Goethe Institut-Max Mueller Bhawan, and is on view at Khoj Studios from 23rd April- 10th May, 2014.