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cartographic bodies a drawing series

kate chen

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cartographic bodies

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cartographic bodies a drawing series; edition II

kate chen


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preface Female bodies in urban spaces have a complicated history. This is something I began to unravel during a year-long drawing series that related the individual body to the monumental city. The flâneur, Surrealists and Situationists—whose fascinating experimentations with urban drifting and cartography have been deeply influential—are distinctly male voices. As an alternative narrative, Cartographic Bodies envisions a female character—her desires, fears, memories—as she navigates the modern, melancholic, mesmerizing city. k. chen

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table of contents 01 cartographies the sublime mysteries of a map; lines intersecting, dialogue between unfamiliar places / 12 02 itineraries tracing trajectories in space female / flâneur whose choreography is performed on an urban scale / 34 03 memories remnants of cities emerge the accumulation of places, forgotten and remembered / 58 — preface / 9 afterword / 84 a conversation: mapping minds / 86 critical essay: subjective cities / 90 index / 92

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01 cartographies “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.

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Map, atlas, geography, place. Before her arrival, this place exists only in the realm of her dreams—unfamiliar, surreal, immaterial. She is often consumed with studying the cartography of the Metropolis, but could not decipher its meaning. Suddenly, she finds herself at the origin of the once imagined place: New York. “A city composed of paroxysmal places in monumental reliefs. The spectator can read in it a universe that is constantly exploding.� * She begins walking in the city, uncovering its secrets.

* Michel de Certeau, Walking in the City.

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The maps, these delicate wire armatures, are notations of daily walks. A journal without a label. An archive of experiences. They contain memories threaded into spatial sequences. The maps are completely indecipherable to others. But the secrecy of the pathways makes the ritual of recording them an obsessive act.

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All obsessions are driven by some form of internal madness. Simultaneously, they are a means of retaining her sanity in this perpetually chaotic place.

Manhattan Itineraries (pages 14–22) Ink in sketchbook 5 x 8� New York, 2015

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spectator She witnesses the kaleidoscopic spectacle of events unfolding. It is never still here. —on the first day I walked fifty blocks north on Broadway; from SoHo to UES; an exercise in reading bodies. the Guggenheim was closed (it was a Monday). once in Greenwich, a gypsy lady stops me to read my palms in the streets. afterwords, I took her photo on my analog camera. 35 mm film. developed two years later; a phantom memory indexed in negative transparency. unlabeled basement clubs in Bushwick are where old acquaintances dwell. finding path home is no easy task. crossing to Williamsburg on the crowded L train, I overheard this conversation: “my friend is remaking Jaws. but with moose.“ rooftops are the only sanctuary—

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One thing remains constant: the skyscrapers. But the scale is beyond comprehension. Against the monumental relief of these forms, her solitary body is inconsequential. Instead, she focuses on the unfamiliar faces that pass her. Strangers in close proximity. Surrounded by the mass of bodies, her identity might disintegrate entirely. The anonymity is intoxicating. — The sounds of humans and machines filter into background noise. These noises are textures, adding to the layers of her perception. The wailing sirens that used to interrupt her sleep dissolve into the static hum of the Metropolis.

Manhattan Armatures (pages 24 & 26) Ink on drawing paper 9 x 12� New York, 2015

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shadows At night, the city inverts itself. Reaching a hyper-saturation of colors and lights, the visceral experience of walking heightens. The darkness does not obscure; rather it exposes a quintessence of city life. Amongst the shadows, hidden desires are brought to light.

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In the darkness, she is not without fear. The nighttime brings forth an anxiety; an underlying, relentless anxiety that weighs upon her mind as an invisible force. It is a fear of the vulnerability of her body. Does every woman feel this?

Manhattan Landscapes (page 28, 31 & 32) Ink on drawing paper, 12 x 16� New York, 2015

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02 itineraries “The paths that correspond in this intertwining, unrecognized poems in which each body is an element signed by many others, elude legibility … the networks of these moving, intersecting writings compose a manifold story that has neither author nor spectator, shaped out of fragments of trajectories and alterations of spaces: in relation to representations, it remains daily and indefinitely other.”

— Michel de Certeau, Walking in the City.

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Motif, path, trajectory, trace. A sketchbook is the most intimate possession of the architect, the artist. She is neither of these (yet). Nonetheless, she denotes places, transcribes texts and sketches objects with meticulous care.

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Paris Itineraries (pages 36, 38-39) Ink in sketchbook 7 x 10� Paris, 2016

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Ruins & other spaces Ink in sketchbook 5 x 7.5” 2016

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Ruins & other spaces Ink in sketchbook 5 x 7.5” 2016


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These sketchbooks become her artifacts of time and geographical markers of place. She is especially interested in stairwells, labyrinths, alleys... remnants of failed civilizations of the past. The drawings are interpretations of cities— a process of recognizing, recording and reflecting in sequential rhythms. They are an archive of invented realities.

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Stairwells & other spaces (pages 42, 44-45) Ink in sketchbook 5 x 7.5� Italy, 2016

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Monuments deconstructed (pages 46 - 49) Ink in sketchbook 5 x 7.5� Italy, 2016

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Monuments deconstructed (pages 40 - 43) Ink in sketchbook 5 x 7.5� Italy, 2016


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Walking gives her the autonomy to determine her own rules: —the first task is to locate all English bookstores in the Latin Quarter; including Shakespeare & Co, Berkeley Books, Abbey Bookshop, etc. to find Baudelaire in the poetry section. I retrieved an old memory (castles in the sky) by returning to the same place from five years ago. June was unusually rainy this year. the Seine rose so high that the walkways became flooded. note: the Gates of Hell are located near Napoleon’s tomb; (coincidence?) take metro home to record this journey—

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During her solitary travels, the sketchbook gives her a reason to linger. The act of drawing or writing is imbued with an unspoken significance. Otherwise, she does not belong. As a foreigner to these cities, a sense of otherness cannot be erased. It is written on her face, on her skin.

Paris sketches (pages 50, 52-54, 56-57) Ink in sketchbook 7 x 10� Paris, 2016

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The marks on the page extend beyond the boundaries of the page itself. They constantly occupy her daily thoughts and conversations; manifest as ideas. Her intuition of space is expressed through the act of sketching/writing/mapping. Through these records, her voice resonates.

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03 memories “Perhaps my life is nothing but an image of this kind; perhaps I am doomed to retrace my steps under the illusion that I am exploring, doomed to try and learn what I simply should recognize, learning a mere fraction of what I have forgotten.”

— André Breton, Nadja.

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Reflections, histories, dreams. She entered the Metropolitan gates with glittering visions of how her narrative will unfold. The story of the city had already been relentlessly written, performed, photographed, sculpted into an endless repetition of forms. But this time, it was her own story.

La Femme Acrylic and ink on drawing paper 16 x 22� Paris, 2016

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Her anticipation was both idealistic and fatalistic. In small moments—lavender on the windowsill, streets saturated by rain, open-air readings of Ulysses, biking alongside the dense traffic— there was a connection to a collective consciousness. However, she was disappointed. The sublime, marvelous Paris seemed only to exist in elusive fragments.

Labyrinths Acrylic and ink on drawing paper 16 x 22” Paris, 2016

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Writers mythologized the city. Amongst them: Breton, Benjamin, and Baudelaire. She recognized Paris through their eyes. An exquisite corpse of images; thresholds between inner/exterior worlds; a ceaseless desire to drift in the streets. Certain qualities are timeless. However, other mysteries of the city unraveled in unexpected ways. — In the initial journeys, she could not drift without interruption. Strangers approached her and questioned her motives. Her answers were never satisfactory. She altered her pathways to evade such uneasy encounters.

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As time passed, she developed her own rhythms. Familiar streets, faces, routines. She re-traced her pathways. Again and again. — “Babel of arcades and stairways, It was a palace infinite, Full of basins and of cascades Falling on dull or burnished gold.”

—Charles Baudelaire, Rêve Parisien.

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Just as suddenly, it was time to leave. Paris was not the destination, but an in-between space. Drawings, books, clothes were packed away neatly into suitcases. Memories collapsed into fragments of places. Residual thoughts. After-images. Also packed away. She continued to drift to other places.

Surreal Landscapes Acrylic and ink on drawing paper 16 x 22� Paris, 2016

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The experiences are embedded into her consciousness. Memories are threaded together in her drawings. These dreamscapes are not limited by the usual temporal/spatial boundaries. — She is the architect of these chimerical places. By mapping out the city with her body, she deciphered its cartography.

Gilded Arcades Acrylic and ink on drawing paper 16 x 22� Paris, 2016

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afterword by Kate Chen

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The origins of Cartographic Bodies trace back to the summer of 2015. I was twenty years old and interning at an architecture office in New York. This was the first time I consciously thought about and recorded my daily rituals through drawing. From the everyday activity of walking, observations on (female) bodies in (urban) space began to emerge. The path of a female walker has many consequences. Initially, there was an exhilarating freedom of accessing multiple realms of the city. I was mesmerized and overwhelmed by an arresting spectacle of urban life. However, the darker implications that arose from solitary wanderings materialized as internal anxiety and melancholy. The drawings were a way to mediate between these dichotomies of mind (internal) and experience (external). They resulted in the accumulation of an archive: 1) a physical archive of sketchbooks 2) a metaphysical archive of memories in cities. Though reduced to minimal line work, the drawings embody a multiplicity of interpretations: sketches, notations, armatures, itineraries, texts, choreographies, etc. The speculations that began in New York provoked deeper curiosity into the history and theories of the urban walker. I was compelled to return to its theoretical origins


to understand why I was so fixated on this practice. In the summer of 2016, I received a fellowship for independent research in Paris. Arriving in this city felt like entering into a surrealistic world. The time I spent here became an immersive (read: obsessive) investigation of how metropolitan life is embedded in the rituals and consciousness of an individual. Paris did reveal its charm and intricate beauty. The stories that were part of history (or collective memory) transition from the imaginary realm into something real, tactile and immediate to my senses. Yet despite my intentions to act as an observer of cities, I often felt a reversal of roles, into the object being observed. The uneasiness traces to my identity and origins, which is somehow inscribed onto my physical body. I had never experienced a sense of foreignness so acutely. I spent a lot of time researching theories related to walking and mapping. From the flâneur to the psychogeographer, the act of walking is often translated through visual and literary means of production. A predominantly male voice characterizes these forms. Historically, a woman’s role in urban space is bound to commerce (e.g. streetwalker, window shopper) and rarely is her voice heard. Instead, she is a phantom image that disappears and reappears within the streets.

Her identity is unknown. In response, the nameless heroine of Cartographic Bodies offers an alternative narrative to the omission of female bodies in urban spaces. She embodies my personal experiences in the Metropolis—desires, fears, memories—and gives a voice to the female walker. The impressionistic drawings in the final chapter of the monograph are an assemblage of memories and sequences. My spatial consciousness is expressed as lines and tones. The dark ink, axonometric projection and atmospheric qualities are alternative compositions to the Western linear perspective. Despite intentions to create a language/logic to my drawings, they remain in the realm of subjective otherness. Each reader decodes his/her own interpretation. The final process of compiling the monograph Cartographic Bodies became a way of reflecting upon all the places I traveled to and communicating my experiences through the drawings and narrative. My time in these cities was deeply personal, introspective and illuminating. This archive of ideas continues to shape my thoughts on identity/bodies within the realm of architecture, art and other spatial practices.

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mapping minds The following text is an abbreviated transcript of an email exchange with Isabella Crowley (fellow artist, urban theorist, student) while Cartographic Bodies was still in draft.

11.27.2016 Isabella: I first want to offer my support of putting the female (body) in urban (space) at the topo(graph)ical center of your work. At what point did you decide your monograph would take this perspective? Was part of the assignment to integrate critical theory into your presentation? How did you research on the SI influence the works you referenced? I am most interested in the ritual that is woven through this work, and how it could almost be interpreted as a meditation.

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11.27.16 Kate: Initially, the monograph was primarily visual. But in thinking about both the places and theories I’ve encountered, I grew increasingly more frustrated with the 1). the lack of female representation in the mediums I was interested in, 2). the loneliness, anxiety, melancholy that is rarely acknowledged, 3). the absence of physical bodies in the discussion of architecture. The narrative was a means of addressing these issues. Psychogeography is the most influential theory I took from SI. The notion of urban drifting as a rebellion against capitalist means of consumption is really powerful. I reference Certeau because I really like his poetic writing style. The excerpts seem to fit the narrative... Though each reader will decode it differently. How would you “decode” the overall theme/ meaning?

12.14.16 Isabella: Starting with the question of decoding the meaning of your work, I would say the composition of pathways that trail on and off pages and the verticality of these pathways establish my framework for understanding. It’s interesting to me that your maps took on an overall vertical direction — maybe the format of your Moleskine influence this? — and could be associated with transcendence. Transcendence of what I am not entirely sure, but the vertically flowing line work also relates to my comments about the meditative quality of the project; i.e. how the ritual of recording these walks is traced through wiry armature to winding staircase to the fluid and vertical curves of La Femme (62). The watercolors, from this reading, lend an essential quality to this progression from line to curve, from cartography to memory.

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mapping minds (cont.) 12.14.16 Isabella: The role of critical theory is important in this work. It’s incredibly frustrating to be engaged in readings of the city throughout history that seem to only lead to their own reproduction. What I mean is that of course critical theory, like artistic engagement with urban space, is dominated (if not the product of) male thought leaders. Similarly, I have come to accept that the tradition of the avantgarde is imbued with female-subordination (I mean just read anything by the Futurists, add two and two, and you get the SI). In my opinion, it is just as valuable to find the questions worth asking that uncover the engaging histories and suggest potential futures for a gender-inclusive engagement with the city as it is to take up the conventional artistic questions inherited from traditions of critical theory and the avant-garde. This is why the question of transcendence is especially poignant in your work to me - to even set the female body in urban space is to remove a work from a certain lineage of

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thought (be it avant-garde artistic practices or serious consideration within the realm of critical theory) and place it into a feminist sphere. One strategy is to ignore the feminist baggage associated with this choice and just proceed; though I think this tactic lowers the woman to a level that undermines her rightful place in history and affirms the status quo of conduct that merits artistic and intellectual recognition. What do you think? 12.18.16 Kate: In response to the verticality of the pathways, I think this originates in Manhattan where the N/S axis is dominant within the urban structure. The Moleskine probably has an subconscious effect as well... I continued this verticality in Paris since I was influenced by Chinese landscape paintings at the time. (The first two weeks in Paris, all the major museums like the Louvre and Orsay were closed due to high tides of the Seine. I spent a lot of time at non-Western art galleries instead). The modes of representation in Eastern art values a totality/cohesion over a

singular perspective. These drawings often resemble axonometric drawings. They are vertical in composition. Clouds/mist obscures parts of the image. All these elements I borrowed for my own drawings. In terms of critical theory, it truly does feel like once a work begins to enter into the feminist sphere, its validity as an intellectual work begins to diminish. Yet to disregard the history of marginalized groups (in my case, female and Asian-American voices) would be even more unfortunate. I tried to negotiate these polarities by addressing the absence of female voices in the beginning (preface), yet still allow for subjective readings of the the drawings/text.

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subjective cities a critical essay by Linning Zhang (fellow architecture student) Cartographic bodies is a drawing series recording subjective perceptions of cities. Kate Chen, the author of this monograph, is inspired by the theory of psychogeography. This theory focuses on experience, and is believed to describe a heterotopia where one is constantly exploring, free of determining factors. Similar to Situationists’ theory, Cartographic Bodies is a project originating as a self-ethonographical mapping experiment to trace the daily itinerary in cities. The author’s drawings of cities, which in a sense are also drawings of the mind, demonstrates her ability to integrate subjective emotion and objective perception. These works unify two different aspects of the ambiance–the hard and the soft–which are the basic elements of a modern city. The hard ambiance is actual physical constructions, and the soft one consists of time, space, and the association of ideas. In this combination, the play of soft ambiance is actively considered in the rendering of the hard. The softness Chen creates in the drawings demonstrates how her own identity influences her perceptions of the cities. It is the part where she merges her own subjectivity into the works.

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The act of walking, a simple and mechanical motion, gives birth to this project. The author embeds her visceral perceptions into her drawings, and describes her time in Paris as a deeply personal journey. In Cartographic Bodies, the relationship between softness and hardness can be translated into the relationship between subjectivity and objectivity. This relationship can be divided into three stages: The use of objective elements to stimulate subjective consciousness; the application of subjective consciousness to record the objective, actual environment; the utilization of subjective feelings, like perceptions or memories, to make representation of objective ambiance. The drawings in Cartographic Bodies reveal the outcome of the latter two stages. The chapters, Cartographies, Itineraries, and Memories, can be seen as three sections that become increasingly abstract in subjective beauty. The works in the first chapter, Cartographies, include not only maps of “memories threaded into spatial sequences”, but also composite drawings of city fragments that trace the pattern of movements and express the “dialogue between unfamiliar places”. These maps and compositions do not carry as much objectivity as they do in our


imagination. Quite similar to architectural plans, these pictures are actually a form of record and representation characterized by subjectivity just as much as any other forms. The second chapter, Itineraries, makes a connection between urban city scale and individual bodies. A “flâneur whose choreography is performed on an urban scale”, was integrated into the drawings. Here, Chen is using a protagonist to compose her subjective perception of the city, which shows her auto-biographical relationship to these places during her travels. The theme of the last chapter is Memories, which depicts the accumulation of disjunctions of the places in cities remembered by the author. These disjunctions are about utility, form, movement and space. The most abstract and subjective part comes near the end, showing how she transforms the actual elements in cities into her own personal constructions. Jerome Seymour Bruner gave us a definition of “models of the world” in the book Cognitive Psychology illustrating that we not only perceive the world as defined orders or structures, but also have the ability to generate a model making prediction about what the world will be like. In accordance to Bruner’s theories, Chen generates her own model of perceiving the world, and uses

her drawings to represent it. The process of becoming more and more subjective in the progression of Cartographic Bodies shows the developing maturity of her ideas. I interpreted the theme of Cartographic Bodies as “subjective cities”, meaning a set of subjective perceptions about city spaces. The subtle relationships between movement and space, woman and object are brilliant in this book. Narrative stories are told through the protagonist, the movement, and the sequence of spaces. These beautiful drawings are the author’s works from the past; however, the stories in them manifest in the present. When I look at the drawing series, I find myself located somewhere within it. Here, I walk within the image, witnessing the beauty of daily life in the streets and buildings that I become a part of. It is as if the very elegance of the city space were merging into my body. Even undistinguished stillness can then take on a mysteriously intriguing sentiment. “The three parts of my monograph are about past, present, and future.” In this statement, I realize that Chen is still immersed within these depicted scenarios. Her definition of past, present, and future is always converging in one moment.

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index Literary sources in order Calvino, Italo. Invisible Cities. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974. Print. — 13 de Certeau, Michel. “Walking in the City” excerpt from The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. Print. — 15, 35 Breton, André. Nadja. New York: Grove Press, 1960. Print. — 59 Baudelaire, Charles. “Rêve Parisien (Parisian Dream)” poem from Flowers of Evil, English translation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print. — 75

Original works in order

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01. Paris journals Ink in sketchbook 7 x 10” Paris, 2016 — cover pages, 34, 36 – 39, 50 – 57, 63, 79 02. Cartographic Traces Acrylic and ink on drawing paper 16 x 22” Paris, 2016 — 4 – 5, 12 03. Paris apartment Photographs. Paris, 2016. — 8, 94 04. Manhattan Itineraries (journals) Ink in sketchbook 5 x 8” New York, 2015 — 14 – 22

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05. Manhattan Armatures Ink on drawing paper 9 x 12” New York, 2015 — 24 & 26 06. Manhattan Landscapes Ink on drawing paper, 12 x 16” New York, 2015 — 28, 31, 32 09.

07. Paris Walkscapes Acrylic and ink on drawing paper 16 x 22” Paris, 2016 — 68 – 70, 73 08. Rome journals Ink in sketchbook 7 x 10” Rome (& other Italian cities), 2016 — 40 – 49, 67 09. Surreal Landscapes Acrylic and ink on drawing paper 16 x 22” Paris, 2016 — 58, 77, 78 10. Labyrinths Acrylic and ink on drawing paper 16 x 22” Paris, 2016 — 60, 64 – 66 11. La Femme Acrylic and ink on drawing paper 16 x 22” Paris, 2016 — 61, 62 12. Gilded Arcades Acrylic and ink on drawing paper 16 x 22” Paris, 2016 — 74, 76, 80

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Cartographic Bodies a drawing series; edition II original work and writing by Kate Chen 2015 – 2017 special thanks to Professor Andrea Simitch Professor Mona Mahall Isabella Crowley, urban theorist/student contributor of digital text Mapping Minds Linning Zhang, M.Arch ‘17 author of critical essay Subjective Cities Frederic Conger Wood Summer Research Fellowship June - July 2016 Cornell University Department of Architecture

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cartographic bodies  

compilation of a drawing series of mappings in New York and Paris (vol. 2)

cartographic bodies  

compilation of a drawing series of mappings in New York and Paris (vol. 2)

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