Suppose the increasing flow of refugees towards Europe does not stop. And imagine that we remain entrenched in a state of denial. What does this look like? Frascati (Amsterdam) organised together with Platform Scenography and What Design Can Do an evening dedicated to the scenography of a steadily growing shadow society. As part of the thematic program Out of State (a program about the practical consequences of an inconsistent policy regarding illegal immigrants), Mapping Invisibility was presented on January 20th. The mapping workshop (which took place a week prior to the presentation) consisted of a tour of four hours in which twelve undocumented citizens guided twelve participants through ‘their’ city.

An embodied form of mapping can be a powerful way to create empathy and understanding. In this workshop the element of time (the taking of time for the other persons pace of walking and talking) was crucial to come to this understanding. We discovered the special meaning of places such as the public library, the wereldhuis, the figure of atlas behind dam square, corners at Central Station, Baba coffeehouse, and many more hidden places of relieve or confrontation. The people participating in this workshop will probably never look at certain places or statues of the city in the same way as before.


According to estimates there are 15.000 undocumented people in Amsterdam. The undocumented have become experts in living invisibly in the city. We want to find out what strategies they use to hide/shelter from reality, what places are important to them and what stories are related to those places. A participant (the host) is guided by an undocumented (the guest) through the city of Amsterdam by walking four emotions. They furthermore get invited by the host for a lunch (which in some cases resulted in a lunch in the host's house).

Prior to the fieldwork a legend was co-created by the participants, consisting of emotions that they thought undocumented citizens experience when walking through the city. The participants had a week to build on this legend of emotions. The undocumented citizens guided the participants to places in the city with the concerning emotion in mind while digitally mapping and discussing its relevance. In the conversation the participant could evaluate preconceived ideas about the choice of words (to what extent it matched reality or not) while mapping. For example, some of the cartographers changed the emotion powerless to powerful. The undocumented in this group argued that powerless is a constant state of being and that it is not linked to certain places in the city (therefor this emotion is mostly visualised as a line), while feeling powerful is very much associated with certain places (in the map this is the big blue dot, which is the location of the Wereldhuis). Changing from one emotion to another happened at a fixed time and for all cartographers simultaneously, until all the words of the legend were mapped. The fieldwork resulted in a map of four emotional journeys, a ‘sheltering from reality’ photo archive and audiotours.

The map of emotional journeys are the result of the walked emotions. As long as the host and guest walked, a line was shown. The longer they stayed on a certain location the thicker the line became, until it turned into a dot. This way of drawing with time is a way to visualise the different responses of the stateless to a similar emotion (one might prefer to be stationed somewhere when it comes to a certain emotion, while another might prefer to walk) and to see where the important locations are in relation to the emotion.

The photo archive shows places, traces, materials, objects and behaviours that have to do with hiding/ sheltering from reality. The pictures were taken while walking.

The audio map consists of different tracks of stories related to 'living invisibly’. During the mapping practice the conversation with the undocumented was recorded. The story is an mp3 that ‘visitors’ can listen to with a mobile phone and headphones by being on the same location and downloading the track. Only by physically being present on the same location and/or following the same route the story is revealed. Deviating from the place or route (range of 20 m) makes the audio fade out. When this happens one has to move in a different direction to get back on the same track again. This way of aligning with the undocumented to reveal the story behind places or objects in the city, plays with a tension between hiding and making public which is a daily recurrent theme for the undocumented.