Entre Ville is a subjective cartography of the Mile End neighborhood in Montreal. Sentence by sentence and sound by sound, a space familiar to the artist is mounted on to a website to sensitively re-present the city. J.R. Carpenter, a Montreal born poet, critic, and teacher sub-titles the carefully curated website “an intimacy born of proximity.” An integral progenitor of digital literature, J.R. Carpenter made Entre Ville as “a web art poetry project presented in the vernacular of my neighbourhood, where cooking smells, noisy neighbours and laundry lines criss-cross the alleyway one sentence at a time.”
Decorated with photographs of fake flowers, vintage postage stamps, and street address numerals, the website features a hand drawn gridded notebook. The fulcrum of the webpage is a poem, Sniffing for Stories, that floats above the gestural depiction of the notebook in an impersonal digital type. A harsh juxtaposition. It begins with a rumination on the different amounts of time one can spend on a city street. “Five minutes from bottom to top. Six if you walk slowly. Seven if you walk as if intent on studying every scent. Eight and a half years if you are sniffing for stories.” From this temporal thought, the poem moves to meditations on the narrator’s dog and a distinctive orange ball it carries.
To the left of the scrolling poem, outside the hand-drawn journal, is a photograph of a medium sized dog. If one allows their eyes, and computer mouse, to wander to this image, it reveals a hyperlink. When clicked, a new poem, Saint Urban Street Heat, is revealed and the dog shifts position. Like space opening up, Carpenter’s website expands and holds one’s attention by employing thoughtful distraction. The piece shows that just like a street can be rushed through or a website can be “stream-lined,” it could also be made complex, less efficient, more sensually interesting.
Across from the poem, mounted on the gridded journal, are impressionistic line drawings of houses crowded with doors and windows. When interacted with, the windows open pop-up browsers containing a spectrum of neighborhood sensations and associations: audio clips of Greek people conversing, pages of dictionaries, grids of arresting neon colors, and hand written notes in journals. The browser windows, unlike the hand drawn neighborhood windows, are uniform and easily peered into, posing an interesting translation. Instead of drifting through the city and experimenting with chance encounter, hypertext composes experience. The arrow of the mouse turning into a hand is like a guide on a walking tour, curating sound and sight for a sense of story.
"Entre Ville" is an homage to the city of Montreal, Quebec, more specifically the Mile End neighborhood of Carpenter. The work plays out like the poetic diary of an artist's day in the city. As Carpenter's artist statement expresses it, it is “a web art poetry project presented in the vernacular of my neighbourhood, where cooking smells, noisy neighbours and laundry lines criss-cross the alleyway one sentence at a time.” This interpenetration can be found in the mix of video, sketch, collage, and poetry that forms the work's interface. For example, clicking on a penciled drawing of an apartment window links to a video that overhears the conversation of nearby Greek neighbors, which is set against a background image of a Greek-to-French dictionary. The center of the piece is a drawing of a notebook that combines a pencil sketch of apartment buildings with a scrolling poem in digital type; the poem, itself the story of the sights & sounds of one hot day in the neighborhood, connects thematically with the page titles of pop-up windows—themselves spawned from the clickable windows and doors making up the interface—as well as the bits of video and poetry found therein.
While playing on such metaphoric associations between the connections made through the form of hypertext and the connections made in the cultural life of the city, Carpenter at the same time steps outside those bounds on occasion: there are scattered clickable objects & signs outside of the notebook on the main page, some of which link to other works or change the poem and interface itself. As attested to the indirect character of many of the videos' shots as well as overheard sounds, what is personal is also public in this cramped yet expansive space.