The Immortal is a short story written by Jorge Luis Borges and included in a collection, The Aleph, published in 1949; it tells the autobiographical tale of a roman soldier, Marcus Flaminius Rufus, and his quest for a river that gives immortality. After a long journey, he finds the river and a labyrinthic place called City of the Immortals. Firstly amazed by the beauty of the buildings, he then discovers that the City is an immense labyrinth with dead-end passages, inverted stairways, and many chaotic architectural structures. Rufus, horrified and repulsed by the city, describes it as “a chaos of heterogeneous words, the body of a tiger or a bull in which teeth, organs and heads monstrously pullulate in mutual conjunction and hatred.”
The first step of my visual research was one of Borges’ own sources of inspiration: the etchings of Piranesi, especially the impossible architecture depicted in the series The Prisons: his incongruous perspective and an anticipated gothic atmosphere are highly reflected in Argentine writer’s texts.
From Piranesi’s etchings I borrowed the idea of an unfinished yet solid structure that has a function without leading anywhere.
Maurits Cornelis Escher was a Dutch artist contemporary to Borges; they never met and probably Borges did not know Escher’s work, but they definitely share a common inspiration in Piranesi and the same research on infinities, paradoxes, and impossible objects.
An extensive presence of archetypical structural elements and his confident use of subverted perspectives were another reference for the making of my book.
Another last inspiration that I am willing to share is the great photographic work of British artist Michelle Lord.
This is how she describes her work in her website:
“Working non-digitally and using only base materials like card and paper to fabricate these large scale model structures, the work nevertheless takes on an uncanny resemblance to an actual city and demonstrates the power of paper architecture to convincingly simulate reality, where a freshly made model can evoke a lengthy history and its diminutive scale conjure up a life-size space. An intricate hybrid of photography, sculpture and architecture; the artificial eye of the camera subtly transforms these hand crafted models into a large sprawling complex, a new imaginary city.”
Firstly, I identified and designed the single architectural elements that would constitute my version of the City of the Immortals:
I then carved a ground into the book to host my structure: the pages that I removed from the book were stuck into a thick board and cut out into architectural elements.
Like in a children’s construction game, I then had to wedge each element in the previous one to create a self standing, impossible structure:
Here is the result: