Anatomy and Architecture: Natalie Draz’s “The City Within”June 8, 2016
A city is a living thing. Its heartbeats match up with our own. It inhales as we exhale. We feel our hometowns in our very bones; we feel our current city in every step we take.
Through bookmaking, Artist’s Book resident Natalie Draz investigates the structure of her body in relation to her urban surroundings. The sculptural pages of The City Within take readers on an adventure in cartography and fantastical anatomy via the streets of Montreal. Combining different bookmaking and printmaking techniques, Natalie’s clustered buildings and winding streets come alive, inviting readers to explore the correlation between interior and exterior spaces.
“I think a city can live within a person as much as a person can live in a city,” says Natalie.
The City Within is modeled after a rib cage: the front and back covers resemble the pelvic bone, anchoring the paper ribs that jut out of the book’s accordion-folded pages. To create this book, Natalie designed a hybrid of two different structures: the tunnel book and the flag book. When the book is opened and unfurled, the folded pages form two parallel, zigzagging walls to create a tunnel. When lifted up, it shakes and dances fluidly, like a real torso. For Natalie, physically interacting with the book is essential for fully experiencing it.
“I want people to really travel through the pages of my book,” she says. “I feel like I should include a note encouraging people to ‘Please Touch.’”
Throughout the book, Natalie plays with the public and the personal through maps of the city in which she lives. On the inside of the ribs is an official map of Montreal, over which is a poem she wrote while riding her bike along the Lachine Canal. The poem is a reflection on the city under her skin. Natalie writes along the ribs,
Nestled under my sternum
Snug tight under my skin
An endless map of veins
On the outside of the accordion-folded pages are black and white etchings of a chaotic interpretation of Montreal intertwined with bodily organs. A major highway circles the heart, buildings become lungs, the kidneys bounce between radio towers. Through these etchings, Natalie explicitly overlaps the boundaries of architecture and anatomy, asking, “What else do I carry with me, in my heart and in my lungs? When does my exterior become my interior?” On the reverse of theses etchings is a street-view map of the block in Montreal where Natalie lived, silkscreened in primary colors. The familiar, hand-drawn buildings are crammed together with each storefront overlapping with another, mimicking Natalie’s perspective as she speeds past them on her bike.
With its metaphoric text and imagery, The City Within creates a nonlinear, multi-layered narrative. The etched buildings are sideways, warped, upside down, and collapsing into each other. The poem can be read left to right, front to back, inside to outside, and still be coherent. And with its complex kinetic structure, the book can be physically experienced in a variety of ways, with several sections hidden depending on how it is being opened.
“There isn’t a right way to read this book, and I wanted that to be felt in the very structure of it,” says Natalie. “That’s my favorite part about making books. I can hide things and create a really individualized experience for each reader.”
In this way, the book is like a city itself, full of people that have lived there all their lives and people that are only visiting for a day. Each have their own versions of that city. With The City Within, Natalie shares her own personal Montreal and invites readers to investigate their own public and personal geographies.
Natalie Draz is a multi-disciplinary artist currently based in Toronto, Canada. She has a BA in Anthropology and Printmaking from University of Toronto and an MFA in Print Media from Concordia University. You can find more of Natalie’s work on her website nataliedraz.com and get a behind-the-scenes look at book production on our Flickr.