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A street with no name

A street with no name is a set of continuous drawings of portraits of an ordinary Tokyo’s street. It consists of two volumes of extended Moleskine’s orihon (foldable book) pocket size album. The drawings are hand drawn by Davisi Boontharm in early 2018. The recto and verso pages of this Urbophilia put side by side form a complete frontal view of both sides of the street.


An ordinary Tokyo

The mega Tokyo shrinks to one stretch of a street when it comes to my vécu. Here in Midorigaoka itchome, I live on a street with no name, no sidewalk, no place to sit. My street is 350-meter-long, 6 meters wide with 78 buildings flanking both sides. There are 10 junctions, among them 5 of the perpendicular streets are roji (small lanes). It takes 4 minutes and 50 seconds to walk from one end to the other, and about 2 minutes by bicycle. On this street there are two FamilyMarts at both ends. Three fudosan (real estate agents), three yakitori restaurants, one bar karaoke, two grocery shops, one sushi bar, three hair salons, one orthopedic clinic, one flower shop and one dry-clean service. All buildings on the street look ordinary, the majority of them are two story residential buildings without any particular beauty. However, all these measurable data and information do not add up to make my street. To claim that a place is my place needs time to establish attachment and acquire meaning.


Drawing as dwelling

The philosophy of co+labo radović is to explore our ability to think, to make and to live the urban. In this context, the emphasis is on the lived experience as one of the most important, but often neglected aspects of the urban. Researchers tend to detach themselves from their own places by investigating them objectively. I try to explore the other ways. If the lived experience is important to one’s life, how do we investigate that subjectivity? How to observe, explain, communicate, share the quality of this ordinary everyday life which is personal and unique to each individual. Phenomenology paid a lot of attention to the concept of dwelling. Dwelling in a place includes the process of growing with it, making it, changing it, which is the essence of human existence. If dwelling is an ability to establish oneself within environment, can drawing play the same role? For me, in this sense, drawing the street of my everyday life is an attempt to make sense of a place.


Why drawing?

First, because I can. I see my ability to draw as an another way to think and to write. Why would one not engage all abilities which one has? I wonder how to visually express my own lived experience. How to represent it and how much drawing can contribute to this process.

Writers such as Georges Perec captured ordinary street life with words. Perec sits, observes and writes down the important and unimportant things surrounding him (Perec 1974). His text encapsulates the moments and movements, from his perspective. However, while the text needs the knowledge of a particular language to decode, drawings are universal. I walk, observe, take notes and take pictures, and then create my own narrative drawings. To draw my street is, in a way, to immerse myself into my “place”, which is the space of my everyday life. Through drawing, an ordinary place can become more meaningful, at least for me.


"Drawing is not what one sees but what one can make others see." 

Edgar Degas


At the moment when I was finishing my drawings, the smallest building on my street has been demolished. It has disappeared in one day. That was the eight building on our street gone scarified to the unsustainable Japanese “scrap & build” practice since I live here. If that practice continues, in 25-year time we won’t be able to see any of the current buildings on this street. I have drawn some of the now non-existing buildings, the buildings that used to be there but no longer exist. These drawings are, therefore subjective snapshots of my place during my time. Objectively, I am not recording the truth. I subjectively portray my street the way I want to remember or I want it to be remembered.


Drawing as searching

My drawing is an essay, a trial, a search and a work in progress. It is an unfinished portrait in the state of becoming. There is no fear of errors, it is still a sketch, a croquis, an imperfect oeuvre revealing the outlines and opening up the form (Nancy 2002).

My drawings are a series of sketches that potentially could become paintings in future. I have tried different techniques, pencil drawing, ink drawing, brush stroke, watercolour etc. until I was satisfied that the tool was right. Here I chose Sepia Caran d’Ache neocolor water soluble crayon. The choice was inspired by the sketches of Renaissance great masters. Those powerful swift lines and quick etching in Sepia. I wonder how to have my Tokyo street sketches acquire the same spirit. Sepia also coincides with the colour palette of my street which is dominated by different shades of brown. The water softens the heavy traits of sepia crayon, it gives the aquarelle effect which is fluid, misty and unpredictable. Incorporating water in the process of drawing I add a soft touch to my street, the way I feel it.


Drawing is an appropriation of place

Handwriting is an imprint of the self on the page. I think that it applies to brush stroke and line drawn by hand as well. My drawings are authentic, they came about from my personal touches and gestures. They are the witnessed of the imprints of my street.

I drew everything that exists on my street. While drawing, I started to pay attention to what I used to see, but not actually noticed. Through drawing, I was scrutinizing all details and appearances of those houses. I started to get into the rhythm of the elements on the facades, the repetition of size, scale and materials especially, roof angles, windows and doors. My hand has created lines that portray all the details, and through this process I felt that I have appropriated my street and brought it within me. Merleau-Ponty stresses that body is a mediator between the world and self. In my case, drawing and dwelling, as bodily experiences, are equally important processes of establishing the attachment to place.


Tokyo, February 2019



from Urbophilia no. 12

“a street with no name”

Design and edited by Davisi Boontharm

Editorial assistance by Norimi Kinoshita

Printed by co+labo, Keio University


Print at Fuji Printing CO., LTD, Tokyo

Copyright text Darko Radović and Davisi Boontharm

Copyright image Davisi Boontharm

300 copies

ISSN 2185-1549

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