A collage of buildings in France. Anastasia Savinova

Anastasia Savinova’s surreal composite structures piece together the essential fragments of a city.

On a walk through Paris, you might pass a set of window shutters thrown open to show a black wrought-iron balcony and think: “This is it. This is France.”

You might take a photograph.  But one image never quite captures the totality of a place. A city’s genius loci—its distinctive spirit—is ephemeral. You can experience it, but it’s harder to recreate.

In her photographic collage series, also called “Genius Loci,” Sweden-based artist Anastasia Savinova comes close.

Belgium (Anastasia Savinova)

Born in the USSR, Savinova was so inspired on her first trip abroad to the Netherlands that “I wanted to save the feeling of the new place,” she tells CityLab. Instead of compiling her individual photographs into a series, she layered them on top of each other, building “a house which symbolized the whole country.”

At first, the collages were for herself alone. She calls them “jars” in which she keeps the spirit of the places she visits.

They’ve become a lifelong project for her, and one to be shared. “I want my collages to show not only architectural structures in cohesion with the landscape but also to catch something bigger than the sum of elements—a whole integral image of space,” she writes on her website.

Umeå, Sweden (Anastasia Savinova)
Fårö, Sweden (Anastasia Savinova)

To create them, she tells CityLab, “I walk around, go to places popular among locals, look into windows. I try to ‘feel’ the place, to catch it breathe.” She takes photos even if the place doesn’t seem immediately distinctive at first sight. “After a while, some particularities appear.”On her laptop, she assembles the fragments into her architecturally surreal images.

As photographic prints, Savinova’s collages are highly tangible—decorative, even. But the beauty of them, she writes, is that they’re “inseparably linked with a mentality and a way of life.” Looking at them, you’re transported.

Italy (Anastasia Savinova)
Germany (Anastasia Savinova)

Prints, from $36 at http://www.anastasiasavinova.com.

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