les villes invisibles: tome 1 /zurich

the imaginary archives of ‘les villes invisibles’ follow some of italo calvino’s ways of telling. in his eponymous book he juggles ancient prose and current urban issues, the travels of marco polo and surreal miniatures of cities.

an almost forgotten technique yields images that remind of the early days of photography – and a trilogy that may be read as an archive from an unknown time.

calvino serves as a philosophical guide for the project: each part of the trilogy explores a different city and one of the key themes of his book. the journey begins in zurich, traverses paris and ends in zobeide, one of calvino’s imaginary cities.


[pullquote author=”italo calvino, the invisible cities, ch 1″]”the great khan … never knew whether marco wished to enact an adventure that had befallen him on his journey, an exploit of the city’s founder, the prophecy of an astrologer …”[/pullquote]


tome 1 /zurich: la ville et le regard – cities and eyes

in one and the same city, everyone sees a different one.

[pullquote author=”italo calvino, the invisible cities, ch 8″]”for those who pass it without entering, the city is one thing; it is another for those who … never leave. there is the city where you arrive for the first time; and there is another city which you leave never to return..”[/pullquote]

[pullquote author=”ch 6″]”your footsteps follow not what is outside the eyes, but what is within, buried, erased. if, of two arcades, one continues to seem more joyous, it is because thirty years ago a girl went by there, with broad, embroidered sleeves … “[/pullquote]

[pullquote author=”ch 2”]”arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had … a past that changed gradually as he advanced on his journey.”[/pullquote]


calvino’s book

quotes are from the french and english translations of calvino’s “le città invisibili”, written in paris and first published in italian in 1972. translations: “les villes invisibles” (french, éditions du seuil, 1974). “the invisible cities” (english, vintage, 1997). “die unsichtbaren städte” (german, dtv, 2006). numbers following quotes indicate chapters.



the series ‘les villes invisibles’ are produced on polaroid packfilm. the type of film used gives, in addition to a black and white photograph, a waste strip that contains traces of a picture. after fixation, the resulting paper negative can be printed with results that remind of ancient photographic processes.


continued in tome 2 /paris.

see here for prints and postcards.


“les villes invisibles” in the media
andrea portmann, artline> kunstmagazin, september 2008

“Die grossformatigen Polaroidprints von Oliver Zenklusen sind feinsinnige Erinnerungsdokumente aus scheinbar längst vergangenen Zeiten. In der station21 sind vor allem Aufnahmen von Zürich, ergänzt durch Panoramafotografien aus aller Welt zu sehen. Ein feiner Schleier liegt über diesen städtischen Orten und Architekturen. Mit einem speziellen Entwicklungsverfahren gelingt es Zenklusen, die Dimension der Zeit in seinen Bildern auszuhebeln. Übrig bleiben auf dem sichtlich beanspruchten Filmmaterial Wischs und Flecken, die sich unmerklich in die Oberflächenstruktur eingeschrieben haben. Durch diese historisch anmutenden Fotografien kommt man Zenklusen persönlicher Topografie der Stadt auf die Spur, in der so mancher altbekannter Ort neu erscheint und Unbemerktes ans Licht geholt wird.”