Judy Malloy, Editor







Karen O'Rourke
Eavesdroplets@Dispatx
Process: interactive and collaborative strategies for the creation of narrative


Karen O'Rourke, whose work includes telecommunications projects, information art, and artists software, has created a coherent, innovative body of work in experimental new media narrative. Exploring mapping and the experience of place using collaborative strategies, her projects include City Portraits which involved participants in 11 world cities creating "portraits" of their towns through the exchange of images and Paris Réseau, which explores the City of Paris with texts, images and sounds. City Portraits was documented in the book Art-Réseaux. (Karen O'Rourke, editor Paris, éditions du CERAP, 1992) along with other collaborative projects led by members of the group Art-Réseaux, while Paris Réseau took several forms. First an installation/performance in 1994, it was later realized as a website and a screen-based installation, then as a CD-Rom Paris Réseau/Network (2000) with an interface that provides multiple entrances to the work, allowing a parallel and layered exploration of the city.

Other works are the curatorial information art project Archiving as Art, sponsored by the French National Science Research Center -- realized with installations, websites and screen-based works, and exhibited at the 2000 International Symposium on Electronic Art in Paris -- and the Web Application A Map Larger Than the Territory, an interactive project where participants follow different paths and/or add their own paths in the cities of Paris, Sao Paulo and Berlin. l

In her statement for Authoring Software, she continues her vision of urban space and collaborative text works with a description of a project created for the UK and Barcelona-based Dispatx Art Collective.

Born in Ithaca, New York, Karen O'Rourke is Maître de conférences in art and communication at the Université de Paris I. (Panthéon-Sorbonne) Her work had been exhibited and published internationally, and she is a recipient of the Leonardo Award for Excellence.

For more information visit her homepage at: http://korourke.pagesperso-orange.fr



Karen O'Rourke: Eavesdroplets@Dispatx

A group of artist-writers called the Dispatx Art Collective -- Oliver Luker, Vanessa Oniboni and David Stent -- invited me to create an artwork for their collaborative web project in the summer of 2006. The website Dispatx functioned as both a workshop and an alternative exhibition space. Its founders were interested in the creative process. Instead of just speculating on what went on, they put it into practice, creating a context for creation. To describe the project, they stated that "The theme for the sixth edition of dispatx.com explores correlation and closely relates to the creative method -- the organising process which translates creative vision into creative output -- as well as the presentation of work in progress."

For the sixth issue, "Improvised Maps", I proposed a new project called <<Eavesdroplets>>. At the time I was writing a book on contemporary art works dealing with walking and mapping, but here I envisioned mapping in a more figurative sense, using a medium (text) and an asynchronous time frame not usually associated with improvisation. My contribution was framed in this way:

The streets resound with pedestrians chattering to friends or cell phones. People are crowding into Internet chat rooms, expounding on forums, posting to mailing lists and blogs while televisions patter endlessly. At one time or another we've all overheard exchanges that seemed comical, off the wall, premonitory, surrealistic. Often composed of ordinary elements, their oddness comes from the way they overlap and recombine to a stranger's ears. This random juxtaposition can shake tired expressions out of their torpor, metaphors can be mixed, reinvigorated or rendered ridiculous. This project collects these recontextualized sound bytes which serve as starting points for collaborative net-stories.

Oliver Luker created a questionnaire to which people could respond by sending tidbits they had overheard. People were asked to email eavesdroplets to me directly. I then published them on Dispatx's "work in progress" blog to deal with later. Many of my eavesdroplets came from the Dispatx artists themselves, using their own names or pseudonyms. Cultivating a kind of asynchronous improvisation, via their blog, they worked with the invited artists to set up each of their projects. Mine was almost entirely done online.

I began by googling terms I didn't know and played lavishly with the copy-paste function of my word processing software. I spent time with the Urban Dictionary, learned a lot of Brit slang terms.

Gradually the project built up a lot of energy. In addition to sending me periodic eavesdroplets and helping out with technique, (Oliver hand coded the questionnaire and the final interface for the project) the Dispatxers wrote a weekly report on each of the developing works in progress. Here is an excerpt of a report posted by David Stent on September 3, 2006:

"Karen continues to analyse the eavesdroplets that she has received in the last few weeks. All references from the text, whether specifically mentioned or revealed through translation, are followed up and mined for further information in an attempt to flesh out the exchanges, re-populating the scenes and re-imagining the contexts within which they could conceivably have occurred. It's fascinating to see how such short exchanges can imply so much potential and the drama that can be conveyed by such clipped examples of everyday speech. One of the most important aspects of this work, which I think has much in common with the early stages of Lawrence Frith's Verso-Recto, is that it is always at the mercy of new information -- it may bleed into completely new territory in the space of a few words, in the same way that a conversation may slip and change in an instant."

After the 4 month work in progress period ended, the invited artists had about a month to finish up their projects and prepare the results for publication, while the Dispatx team started work with a new group of artists. In my case I hewed my material so as to develop for each eavesdroplet a very short story. The final result was a collection of these stories. The reader discovers a clickable menu with the titles. (made from the first lines of each eavesdroplet) When you choose one, you are sent to a page showing both the eavesdroplet I received and the story I made with it. These stories varied in length from a few lines to a whole page. Some were fleshed out, others were meant to evoke brief movie synopses. The most difficult part was to create a final result capable of transmitting to new readers the energy built up during the process.

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