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 Slagerij DeSchuyt

Identity Design

Slagerij DeSchuyt

4 By Proxy

Publication Design

James Cohan Gallery

5 Carbon Social Club

Identity Design

Lauren GIfford

6 Memory Place Desire

Publication Design

Haverford University

7 Digital Anthropomorphism

Publication Design

Andre Gray

8 Louise Nevelson

Publication Design

Locks Gallery

9 Making: Your Life As An Artist

Publication Design

Andrew Simonet

10 TwoFiveSix

Website Design

TwoFiveSix

11 A Field Guide to Philadelphia's Public Art

Publication Design

City of Philadelphia

12 Elizabeth Atterbury

Publication Design

The Colby Museum

13 Good For One Fare

Publication & Installation Design

Self-Initiated

14 Strategic HR

Publication Design

Ed Krow

15 Ultraboost 19

Global Advertising Campaign

adidas

16 City as Protagonist

Publication Design

Self-Initiated

17 What We Want Is Here

Publication Design

Asian Arts Initiative

18 Killscreen

Website Design & Strategy

Killscreen

19 The World by Train

Publication Design

Self Initiated

20 Next City Aniversary

Editorial Design & Art Direction

Next City

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

Publication & Installation Design

Self-Initiated

22 Philagrafika 2010

Publication Design

Philagrafika

23 Michael Snow / Photo-Centric

Publication Design

Philadelphia Musuem Of Art

24 LoDown x Radical Cutup

Publication Design

LoDown Berlin

25 The Pool

Identity Design

The Pool

26 The World Stage

Exhibition Design

Next City

27 Depth of Surface

Publication Design

Philagrafika

28 Next City Magazine

Magazine Design

Next City

29 Akustikplatten

Identity Design

Julien Grefe

30 Heartworm Publications

Publication Design

Heartworm Press

31 Letting Go

Publication Design

Pew Center for Arts & Heritage

32 Steve Powers

Publication & Website Design

Steve Powers

33 The Stumbling Present

Publication Design

University of Santa Barbara

34 Swindle Magazine

Magazine Design

Roger Gastman & Shepard Fairey

35 Common Touch

Publication Design

Library Company of Philadelphia

36 Mural Arts @30

Publication Design

Mural Arts Program

37 City Limits Magazine

Magazine Design & Art Direction

City Limits

38 Fels Policy Research Initiative

Identity Design

University of Pennsylvania

39 Red Collective

Identity Design

Red Collective Real Estate Group

40 Haiku Song

Publication Design

Mural Arts Program

41 Room 21

Website & Identity Design

Barnes Foundation / Jace Clayton