Réseau: (Net)work in progress
by Karen ORourke
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.
As I became more interested in working this material into some kind of
whole, I began exploring different ways of linking images, sound and text,
with a view to developing a more effective screen-based interface which
would offer users different possibilities for interaction. Since then
the piece has incorporated more and more fictional elements. The first
experimental work I realized alone was a very simply structured web site.
The city was designed as a series of juxtaposed fragments: fragments of
body parts, fragments of texts, fragments of itineraries you could explore
by clicking on words. Sometimes the links were terms which appeared to
be significant, such as place names, sometimes not. Why not follow the
word "three"? Three knuckles, three times, three oclock,
three husky fellows...
2. The 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.
Paris 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.
Each of the four parts has its own system of navigation; its up
to the viewer to discover the rules. 1. Six Itineraries. 2. Jogging in
the Roquette Square. 3. A Voyage Around my Courtyard. 4. Erasing a Billboard.
In one, the focus is more on visual perception, in another, you are asked
to imagine people and things you don't see, the third allows you to explore
and the fourth to tinker with the images on the screen. A fifth zone,
accessible from within the others, is both navigational tool and urban
2.1. 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
.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 be begun in one place and
finished 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, recounting 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
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 " (Walter
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.
2.4. 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 "sonographed", have become
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?
2.5. 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.
3. 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 art itself?
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".