City as Character

An written and visual investigation into the TV series Atlanta

I wrote and designed this book as part of my masters thesis at the Sandberg Instituut. Following my long time interest in cities, literature and film, I chose the work of American actor, rapper, and director Donald Glover to analyze, starting with the idea that the city itself could play the role of protagonist in a work of art.

In the case of the work of Glover, that city would be Atlanta, Georgia. I started with a quote from Italian journalist and writer Italo Calvino, in which he described the role that the city played in his work in the following way:

“To represent the streets and the various districts as dramatis personae, each one with a character in conflict with every other, to give life to human figures and situations as if they were spontaneous growths from the cobbles of the streets, or else protagonists in such dramatic contrast with them as to cause a whole string of disasters to work in such a way that at every changing moment the true protagonist was the living city.” 

With Calvino’s approach in mind, this book investigates how Atlanta plays the part of muse, protagonist, antagonist, and foil in the life of Earn (one of the show’s main characters, also played by Donald Glover himself), as well as the lives of the rest of the cast. To conduct this investigation, I build on Calvino’s conviction that the “living city” can be the “protagonist” in artworks. Moreover, viewed through a multi-disciplinary lens, the work of other writers, artists, philosophers, and architects throughout history is connected to this central point.

The influence that the city of Atlanta on Donald Glover’s real-life creative processes is also be the subject of analysis. Are there connections to his lived experience? Does the lived experience of the people he has known influence particular scenes or decisions? What is the specific role of the city and how does it affect choices and decisions made by the other characters in the series? What connections or references are being made to broader social or cultural events that had occurred in Atlanta and in other cities around the world?

In the book I looked at two specific episodes of Atlanta. Using the methodology of semiotic analysis, primarily in the style of Italian novelist, literary critic and philosopher Umberto Eco, I made connections and parallels in meaning between the dialogue, visual direction, and theme of each episode. These points of analysis were then related to the hypothesis that the city is a character in the TV series.

Project

Type

For

1 Sea Change

Publication Design

Haverford University

2 Heartworm Reader Issue One

Publication Design

Heartworm Press

3 Fusio 4D

Art Direction and Design

Adidas

4 Slagerij DeSchuyt

Identity Design

Slagerij DeSchuyt

5 By Proxy

Publication Design

James Cohan Gallery

6 Carbon Social Club

Identity Design

Lauren GIfford

7 Watch Us Move

Art Direction & Design

Adidas

8 Memory Place Desire

Publication Design

Haverford University

9 Digital Anthropomorphism

Publication Design

Andre Gray

10 Louise Nevelson

Publication Design

Locks Gallery

11 Making: Your Life As An Artist

Publication Design

Andrew Simonet

12 TwoFiveSix

Website Design

TwoFiveSix

13 A Field Guide to Philadelphia's Public Art

Publication Design

City of Philadelphia

14 Elizabeth Atterbury

Publication Design

The Colby Museum

15 Good For One Fare

Publication & Installation Design

Self-Initiated

16 Strategic HR

Publication Design

Ed Krow

17 Ultraboost 19

Global Advertising Campaign

adidas

18 City as Protagonist

Publication Design

Self-Initiated

19 What We Want Is Here

Publication Design

Asian Arts Initiative

20 Killscreen

Website Design & Strategy

Killscreen

21 The World by Train

Publication Design

Self Initiated

22 Next City Aniversary

Editorial Design & Art Direction

Next City

23 An Inaccurate, Incomplete and Absolutely True History of the City of Philadelphia

Publication & Installation Design

Self-Initiated

24 Philagrafika 2010

Publication Design

Philagrafika

25 Michael Snow / Photo-Centric

Publication Design

Philadelphia Musuem Of Art

26 LoDown x Radical Cutup

Publication Design

LoDown Berlin

27 The Pool

Identity Design

The Pool

28 The World Stage

Exhibition Design

Next City

29 Depth of Surface

Publication Design

Philagrafika

30 Next City Magazine

Magazine Design

Next City

31 Akustikplatten

Identity Design

Julien Grefe

32 Heartworm Publications

Publication Design

Heartworm Press

33 Letting Go

Publication Design

Pew Center for Arts & Heritage

34 Steve Powers

Publication & Website Design

Steve Powers

35 The Stumbling Present

Publication Design

University of Santa Barbara

36 Swindle Magazine

Magazine Design

Roger Gastman & Shepard Fairey

37 Common Touch

Publication Design

Library Company of Philadelphia

38 Mural Arts @30

Publication Design

Mural Arts Program

39 City Limits Magazine

Magazine Design & Art Direction

City Limits

40 Fels Policy Research Initiative

Identity Design

University of Pennsylvania

41 Red Collective

Identity Design

Red Collective Real Estate Group

42 Haiku Song

Publication Design

Mural Arts Program

43 Room 21

Website & Identity Design

Barnes Foundation / Jace Clayton