Concept and Direction : Karen
Text, image and sound : Karen
Programming : Samuel Milliet (Arkéon), Yves Cothouit
support from the CNRS program Archives of Creation, UMR 8592
Aesthetics of Contemporary Arts
Centre dÉtudes et de Recherches en Arts Plastiques
Université de Paris 1
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Karen O'Rourke was born in Ithaca, New York, and educated at Kent
State University and Université Paris 1. Her installations,
photographs, artist books and software have been presented in Europe
and America. In 1997 she received the Leonardo Award for Excellence.
She teaches at Université Paris 1 (Panthéon-Sorbonne).
Concept, Direction: Karen ORourke
Itineraries: Anne Charbonneau, Anna Guilló, Karen ORourke
Programming: Samuel Milliet (Arkéon), Yves Cothouit
Preface: Eliane Chiron
Cover Design: Julien Nelva
Images: Elvire Bastendorff, Giliane Bordère,
Anne Charbonneau, Sophie Coiffier, Benjamin Dubillard-Teyssèdre,
Anna Guilló, Maria Klonaris, Christophe Le François
, Gilbertto Prado, Isabelle Millet, Karen ORourke, Anne Teyssèdre,
Clara Teyssèdre, Katerina Thomadaki, Marie-Dominique Wicker,
Voices : Elvire Bastendorff , Shawna Batchelor, Patrick Bazin,
Giliane Bordère, Sophie Coiffier, Benjamin Dubillard-Teyssèdre,
Deke Dusinberre, Anna Guilló, Annelie Kappès, Annie
Kappès, Michel Kappès, Maria Klonaris , Christophe Le
François, Daniel Lewis , Isabelle Millet, Karen ORourke,
Maureen O'Rourke, Gilbertto Prado, Jean-Pierre Sag, Alice Suret-Canale,
Michel Suret-Canale, Anne Teyssèdre , Clara Teyssèdre,
Marie-Dominique Wicker , Katia Zecevic
Translations : Karen O'Rourke, Deke Dusinberre
Acknowledgements : Eliane Chiron, Sophie Coiffier, Yves
Cothouit, Anna Guilló, Maria Klonaris, Jean Lancri, Judy Malloy,
Costin Miereanu, Fabrice Oehl, Gilbertto Prado, Katerina Thomadaki.
Network assembles photographs, sound samples, animations and texts
to form a composite, layered image of the city, combining digitized traces
of physical places and people with information garnered from individual
and collective memory. As the map turns around in a spiral movement, you
seem to move in, from one zone to another, toward the subject, but as
you get closer, you begin to lose your bearings. In each zone, you explore
the city differently. Four entrances, four ways of looking, four structural
devices. You will always have, even as you move around, a fragmentary
view, evoking a vast, more complete "hors-champ", which always
seems out of reach. You enter as if you were breaking in.
"Paris Réseau" was originally a five-day event which
took place in March, 1994 at the Paris Video Library: moving bodies
drawing a virtual map of the city in real time. This map represented
the itineraries of several Art-Réseaux group members as they
left the Video Library in the center of Paris to return home toward
the periphery. The "artist-reporters" used cameras to chart
their trips; upon arrival, they digitized and sent the pictures by modem
to the "ground crew" at the Video Library, who integrated
them into an interactive animation.
To form a backdrop against which this action would take place, I had
asked participants to describe the places in Paris where they used to
live as well as their most frequent destinations from that period. The
itineraries were then photographed --interpreted-- by another member
of the group. The soundtrack consisted of interviews with the protagonists
as they pored over the photographer's pictures. The approach was somewhat
anthropological. How do we remember these everyday itineraries from
the past? How does someone else go about photographing them?
The next step was to further refine the material gathered to shape it
into something perceptible, comprehensible, what Duchamp has called
a "transsubstantiation of inert matter" into art. Or to put
it more modestly, it was decided to make a CD-Rom. Several artists participated
in this first version, which was shown in São Paulo in 1995 at
the Museum of Contemporary Art. We chose to focus on a few itineraries,
each of which was given a more extensive treatment. This piece marked
a turning point in that here we began to move away from our original
concern with process to address the issue of creating an "object".
Mac (Procesor/CPU: Power PC, MacOS 7,6, RAM : 32 Mo/Mb, CD-Rom 6X)
PC (Procesor/CPU: Pentium 200, Windows 95, RAM: 16Mo/Mb, CD-Rom
In its present version, the Paris Réseau CD-Rom is a multimedia
"artist's book". My goal was to set up a polyphonic structure
in which sound and imagery would complete each other, in which artwork
and process would come together, in which the viewer could become engaged
at several levels.
The opening spiral proposes an aerial view of Paris. The numbers lead
to four destinations: each one has its own system of navigation. In
one the focus is more on perceptual effects (for example a "flicker
film"), in another you are asked to imagine things you don't see
(the voices on the soundtrack evoke events and persons off-screen),
the third allows you to explore and the fourth to tinker with the objects
shown on the screen. A fifth zone, available from within the others,
is at once a navigational tool and an approach to the city.
Six Itineraries (the Net)
The first entrance, the map, or the net, leads to six narratives with
minimal interactivity. Each itinerary comprises a loop so as to describe
an eternal return. It is based on the Surrealists' idea that objective
details in the city echo our unconscious state of mind. We keep going
back, retracing our footprints, returning to the same places, like Restif
de la Bretonne, the eighteenth century diarist, circling round and round
the Ile Saint-Louis. However each time we return to a place, our experience
of it is different. Is it we who have changed, or it? "We enter
into the rivers, which always remain the same, however waters and other
waters always arrive." (Heraclitus). One day Restif found that
his wife and daughter had preceeded him, erasing the graffiti he had
made the day before.
2.2. Jogging in the Roquette Square (the Maze)
Gilbertto is jogging in the Roquette Square. Where is that? In the prison
courtyard or the public gardens? Daffodils and concrete, narrow sinuous
paths at times almost entirely walled in. In the distance you can hear,
but not see, children playing. Other sounds are present intermittently
: a runner's feet pounding the pavement, leaves crunching underfoot,
a girl's voice chanting a nursery rhyme.
You, the viewer, adopt the joggers point of view, choosing your
own rhythm. If you "gobble up asphalt": the voices will interrupt
each other, if you move more slowly, you can eavesdrop. Even so, the
statements are often fragmentary. People tend to echo one another's
comments, putting them into a different perspective. A story can begin
in one place and finish elsewhere. If you return to a particular spot,
you probably won't hear the same remark, sometimes it is even another
voice speaking. Dialogues occur in French or English randomly. At various
times you can call up other points of view by clicking in the middle
of the screen.
Time passes as you explore the Roquette. During the day there is no
way out. As dusk approaches, the joyous Sunday afternoon crowd gives
way to individual voices. Park visitors chat about holiday plans as
they watch their children play. Or are the voices those of Roquette
inmates lying in their beds after lights out, regaling each other with
details of imaginary vacations: a Sunday outing in the Fontainebleau
forest, a trip to Tunisia? Everyone evokes with equanimity the Friday
night traffic jams on the expressways leading out of Paris.
Night falls over the garden. Vague silhouettes appear here and there:
bushes? park benches? Occasionally a prisoner cries out in her sleep.
No one would dream of calling the night warden; she'll just have to
sweat it out. Elsewhere, a small child declares calmly: "Little
Brown Bear is afraid of the dark. I think I'll turn out the light anyway,
he'll be afraid anyway. All right, said the Mommy, you turn it off.
He turned off the light, and then he shut the door, and then, he left
Little Brown Bear all alone.
2.3. Journey Around My Courtyard
" He who looks in through an open window never sees as many things
as he who looks at a closed window. " (Charles Baudelaire)
" It's very characteristic that it should be the very intimate
and very mysterious influence that the weather exercises on men which
should become the subject of their most vacuous conversations "
While the rain falls in the courtyard, a drizzle at times which can
turn into a flood, or a driving rain which weakens after a while, gradually
becoming a monotonous background hum, voices imagine different outings,
everything we could do today (it's Sunday) but probably won't, since
we stay at home. Perhaps we need courage to brave the " rotten
weather " (rust, mildew, chipped paint, " vanities ").
Colors : every nuance of gray, the courtyard walls were originally painted
pink and pastel green, they now reveal the dirty tones of concrete underneath,
the surface sometimes wet, sometimes not. Time is dilated, the weather
The first image contains a number of hot spots. A click on one type
of object modifies the picture, on another it brings a new image, on
a third, a sound or an animation. We hear bits and pieces of monologues,
people discussing movies theyve seen, plays, exhibitions ("
but there are so many of them, and they are all interesting! "
protests a womans voice)... The view from the windows shifts:
we're looking out over São Paulo, or taking a walk in a garden
somewhere south of Lyon. Sometimes we approach the window, and open
it to see the rain falling, the shutters batting in the wind. After
each excursion, we return inside once more, facing the closed windows.
It is nighttime. Everything is quiet.
The Injured Billboard (the Palimpsest)
At first the screen shows a hand holding a dust rag. This is followed
by one or more views chosen at random among the seventy-two details
of a billboard photo. To explore this zone you must erase the image
by holding down the mouse and moving the rag over the screen. If you
continue to rub a particular area even after the first picture has
been gummed out, you'll begin to remove the second image in the series,
which then reveals the third, like layers in a palimpsest. If you
keep rubbing in the same place, you'll wear a hole all the way down
to the last image in the series. When the entire screen has been erased
down to the bottom layer, a new fragment appears to explore.
The subject of the billboard itself is minimal: three young women
wearing bras stand together; one is looking down, two are looking
at the viewer; all three are framed in a medium shot. Each detail
covers up a series of other images, which develop different themes:
for example, the implications of the models' relative positions in
the picture ("two's company, three's a crowd"); the theme
of vanities, the hidden wound (in one spot the poster is ripped open:
through the gaping hole we can see the wooden framework behind it).
The poster is transformed into a living person while you and I, scanned,
x-rayed and "sonogrammed", have become pictures.
The soundtrack comes from another modern palimpsest, the telephone
answering machine: the voices jostle, overlap; todays messages
cover each other imperfectly, other voices emerge out of the distant
past. The simulated computer voice giving apparently precise information
(Tuesday 3:44 p.m.) just emphasizes this discrepancy: which Tuesday
is that? Tuesday of last week or a Tuesday in October five years ago?
The Navigator (the Web)
The navigator can be reached from within the other spaces. This
control panel parodies the well-known Web browser, "Netscape".
Alert messages, dialog boxes, and other familiar windows spring
up in different places, following one another in random order. Some
propose a choice (Do you wish to allow this cookie to be set?),
others provide information on what is supposedly happening (receiving
message, looking up host etc.). If you try to close one, several
others shoot up immediately like the heads on the Hydra of Lerna.
Accumulation, information overload, frenetic activity: all attributes
of cyber city. You undergo this assault until you decide to click
somewhere. From here you can go anywhere else; each destination
can be reached in several ways. While this redundance would seem
to guarantee the transmission of the information (communications
theory holds that a message transmitted simultaneously by several
canals is more likely to be received), this overabundance of signals
also confuses us. The more we see, the less we retain.
Content or contents?
Does the city "inform" (give form to) the archive or does
the archive inform the city (insofar as it shapes our experience
of it) ? Is one a container and the other its content(s)? In what
ways do (digital) images shape the content (our perception) of the
city ? In what ways do networks, electronic or not, transform not
only the content of individual art works, but the very nature of
Since this project was begun, the cranes and bulldozers have moved
on and the Grande Bibliothèque in Paris is finally open to
the public, road construction crews have put in over fifty kilometers
of bike lanes (maybe a hundred by now), Isabelle has moved again,
taking her mannequin and her ironing board, shes now the mother
of a baby boy, Gilbertto has gone back to Brazil... All the while,
"Paris-Réseau" continues its sedimentation, accumulating
like Borges' labyrinth, "infinite series of times...an expanding,
vertiginous network of convergent, divergent and parallel times".