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The Print Map as a ‘literary platform’

J.R. Carpenter describes creating and distributing The Broadside of a Yarn, a hybrid print-digital art-literature project commissioned by Electronic Literature as a Model for Creativity and Innovation in Practice (ELMCIP) for Remediating the Social, an exhibition which took place at Inspace, Edinburgh, UK, 1-17 November 2012.

The Broadside of a Yarn is a multi-modal performative pervasive networked narrative attempt to chart fictional fragments of new and long-ago stories of near and far-away seas with nought but a QR reader and a hand-made map of dubious accuracy. Yes, but what is it? Well, it’s kind of hard to say.

The Broadside of a Yarn remediates the broadside, a form of networked narrative popular from 16th century onward. Broadsides were texts written on a wide range of subjects, cheaply printed on single sheets of paper (often with images), widely distributed, and posted and performed in public. During the Remediating the Social exhibition, The Broadside of a Yarn was posted as a discontinuous map printed on 15 A3-sized foam-core-mounted squares arranged in an asymmetrical grid in a 5m x 3m light-box situated in the main entrance of Inspace gallery.

The purpose of this map is not to guide but rather to propose imprecise and quite possibly impossible routes of navigation through the city of Edinburgh, along the Firth of Forth, into the North Sea, into the North Atlantic and beyond into territories purely imaginary. The map squares are composed from my own photographs, and scans of details of maps, charts, drawings, and diagrams found in books, pamphlets, prints and other ephemera gleaned from used and antiquarian bookshops during a research trip I took to Edinburgh in May 2012.

Like the printed broadsides of old, the public posting of The Broadside of a Yarn signifies that it is intended to be performed. Embedded within the cartographic space of the printed map are QR codes which link to smart-phone-optimised web pages containing computer-generated narrative dialogues. These were created through a dialogic process.

Over a 10-month period, Steve Booth, Amy McDeath, Braille Fem, Caden Lovelace and I engaged in an extended conversation toward the development of a text-generator engine. Booth et. al. wrote a code base in JavaScript using jQuery, which I then used, in combination with CSS, HTML and various other JavaScripts, to create thirteen computer-generated narrative dialogues. Most – though not all – of these are intended to serve as scripts for poly-vocal performances, replete with stage instructions suggesting how and where they may be read. One generator is composed entirely of dialogue from Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Sharer. Another contains lines of dialogue from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The combinatorial powers of computer-generated narrative conflate and confabulate characters, facts, and forms of narrative accounts of fantastical islands, impossible pilots, and voyages into the unknown undertaken over the past 2340 years.broadside2

On one hand, a print map hung in a gallery exhibition for three weeks offers but a narrow window of access to such a vast and varied body of digital text. On the other hand, this discontinuous print map is infinitely expansible. Any number of new map squares may be added at any time.

In part to extend the life of The Broadside of a Yarn beyond the Remediating the Social exhibition, and in part to further the remediation of the broadside as a form, I also created an A3-sized subset of the gallery map, which was handed out freely during the exhibition and which continues to circulate through gift exchange economies and postal networks. This map collages together imagery and QR codes from some – but not all – of the gallery map squares. The folding of 500 A3 sheets into map form took rather longer than expected and became something of a performance in the gallery space in the lead-up to the opening of the exhibition, 1 November 2013. Immediately following the opening there was a performance event in the Sculpture Court of Edinburgh College of Art, in which, a number of the computer-generated narrative dialogues in The Broadside of a Yarn were performed by myself, Jerome Fletcher, Judd Morrissy, and Mark Jeffery before a live audience. Similar performances have been staged at the Arnolfini in Bristol, the Sorbonne in Paris, and The Banff Centre in Canada.

The performance of The Broadside of a Yarn continues off-stage as well. Each gifting of the broadside map, each unfolding, each demonstration, each QR code scanned, each URL located, each page loaded, each JavaScript file executed, each computer-generated narrative dialogue read (whether scanned by eye, absorbed by ear, or spoken by mouth), each gesture, each act, each utterance prompted by this print map constitutes an event.

Two of the mobile-phone-optimised computer-generated texts have been developed into stand-alone web-based pieces. There he was, gone. was published on Joyland Poetry: A Hub for Poetry in June 2012, and Notes on the Voyage of Owl and Girl was included in Avenues of Access: An Exhibit & Online Archive of New ‘Born Digital’ Literature presented at the Modern Languages Association convention held in Boston in January 2013.

The Broadside of a Yarn may perhaps be best described as an assemblage. It is an unbound atlas of impossible maps, an errata-base of historical, pictorial, diagrammatic and cartographic data, a collection of short stories, a selection of fragments of quotations from centuries of sailors’ yarns, spoken words from printed stories set on far-away long-ago seas pulled through networks into hand-held digital devices, past words put into present mouths and then shifted. As is the way with assemblages, this work remains fluid and is by no means finished.

Stitched Panorama

Image by Richard Ashrowan

For more information on The Broadside of a Yarn visit:

Download a free e-book of the Remediating the Social exhibition catalogue here:

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