My favorite topic of conversation with people who relocate to Atlanta is to find out how they make sense of it. This is not an easy task in a city that pretty much moves around the clock and offers a cornucopia of things to do to keep you entertained and informed. With time though, newcomers gradually build their own experience of Atlanta through the places in the city where they live, work, and play. Some people fall in love with it forever, some for a while, and some can never get used to it.

This idea of making sense of a new place is fascinating because it forces us to wire our brain connections differently in order to map it. Over the past six months, I stumbled on three wonderful examples of people who, intentionally or not, made visible the process of mapping Atlanta or a space in Atlanta in creative ways:

  • Sophie Landrieux’s book in French Chronique de l’Amérique au quotidien
  • Heather Hutson’s documentary Hotel Clermont;
  • Noé Soulier’s dance performance Removing.

Sophie Landrieux, Chronique de l’Amérique au quotidien

Sophie and her family have lived in the United States for eight years. A college professor in Business Administration in France, Sophie has written several books on management. After her transatlantic move, she started a cultural blog, and has recently published a book dissecting the American way of life, a great resource for anybody new to Atlanta or the United States. Both her blog and book describe in detail her process of decoding and mapping her environment in order to become a fully engaged participant in the life of the city. Sophie does a very job of describing how disorientating a new space and a new community are at first, no matter how much you have prepared for them. Building relationships, even reflecting, are crucial in this mapping process: who and what is and is not around you? When you combine both, disorientation morphs into familiarity and, hopefully,  a sense of belonging. Making sense of a place and how you fit in this place is empowering and allows you to take action. Sophie’s work is a great contribution to understanding this unique process of uncovering uncharted territory that you eventually call home.

Landrieux, Sophie. Chronique De L’Amérique Au Quotidien:Une Française Décrypte L'American Way of Life. 2016. Kindle.


Heather Hutson, Hotel Clermont

Heather Hutson is an Atlanta native and documentarian who explores questions related to the development of a sense of place in a digital age. At the 2016 Atlanta Film Festival, Heather presented Hotel Clermont, a short film documenting the last days of the historic and iconic Clermont Hotel and the lives of its residents. Heather partnered with Atlanta-based photojournalist Allen Sullivan, who captured footage of long-term residents before it closed in 2009. As the documentary unfolds, we are introduced to stories of the unheard voices of Atlanta: men and women who may not have chosen to live there, but ended up calling Clermont Hotel home. It seems like the commonality between all the residents was the absence of community and sense of place in their life prior to their arrival. Once they started living at Clermont, the residents were able to build--or at least feel--a sense of community again. This shows the power of being part of a place where you are heard, not judged, and where you can start making sense of your reality. The film ends when the hotel closed seven years ago, and you can’t help but think about the whereabouts of the residents following their departure. Yesterday, the AJC featured a photo documentary about Hotel Clermont’s groundbreaking renovations kickoff after years of talks, indicating that the building will continue to be a space for people in transition.

Hotel Clermont. Heather Hutson. HLH Productions, 2016.

Noé Soulier, Removing

Every October since 2010, the French Consulate and Georgia Tech partner to organize France-Atlanta: Together Towards Innovation, a series of multidisciplinary events centered on innovation and designed to foster cooperation between France and the Southeast US. As in the previous years, this year’s schedule of events has been stimulating, inspiring, and thought-provoking. In fact, one of the cultural happenings I attended completely resonated with the concept of place and identity. Noé Soulier’s contemporary dance performance Removing address questions related to the observation, perception and interpretation of our gestures. The solos and duos of dancers were like a conversation triggering a chain of reactions that reminded me of the dynamics of relationships: what we do or don’t do and its impact on society. Noé’s choice of not including music focuses the audience’s attention on the movement and the role of the dancer as a performer whose power goes well beyond synchronizing a movement to music. It reminded me that part of making sense of a place is to pay close attention to the way people move: each place, each community has codes that can help us understand quite a bit about its people and their culture.

Removing. Noé Soulier. Lucas Bassereau, Anna Massoni, Nans Pierson & Noé Soulier. Atlanta Contemporary Arts Center, Atlanta. 10/14/2016. Dance

Although these three examples may seem disconnected in their topic, the core of these works is the relationship between people and their environment in the city. Whether it is drawn from personal experience, interviews, or demonstration to an audience, the message centers on the importance of taking a look at our relationships to our environment. I look forward to seeing how our Lab Atlanta students will make their experience of the city visible to us!

Agnès Browning