Anne Ring Petersen, Denmark

Narrative and Cross-Embedding in Interactive Media Art: Sally Pryor's Postcard from Tunis 2011 IMAC Proceedings: interactive media arts conference, ed. Morten Søndergaard, Aalborg: Aalborg University Press 2012: 60-63.

...Its style is poetic, personal and local but also international as it communicates experiences of travel and cultural encounter. It is primarily addressed to people for whom Tunisian culture and Arabic would represent an encounter with a foreign environment and language (Pryor: 46-47, 51-52). Postcard from Tunis is about the experience of cultural as well as linguistic translation. It constructs a multilingual space consisting of Pryor’s native language English as well as Arabic and French – the second language of Tunisia. The work communicates her experience of the hospitality of her Tunisian friends and family, of picking up bits and pieces of Arabic by deducing the meaning of words from everyday situations (Pryor: 66), of the Arabic alphabet, and of gradually acquiring an understanding of Tunisian culture, albeit the intercultural understanding of a foreigner. It picks up on the popular tradition of the postcard as well as the tradition of mail art as an art form (Pryor: 444), embedding both in the digital medium of an interactive CD-ROM sent by airmail to the addressee. Hence, Pryor’s digital postcards are not addressed to a named receiver, but are intended for a general art audience.

...When a user explores a series of interactive screens, a kind of narrative is produced. Although the user may not put it explicitly, there will be an implicit understanding that the succession of states that constitutes an exploration of Postcard from Tunis draws up an itinerary. The itinerary traces a journey which has modified the traveller’s boudaries to another culture; it traces the story of the experiential process of cross-cultural learning, albeit only on a small scale. Because the work is interactive, this is not only the story of the artist’s life experience of acculturation but also the story of the reader-user’s mediated experience of acculturation. Needless to say, the varied displays generated from the non-narrative palimpsest of Pryor’s work do not qualify as narratives in the strong sense of the word. The work’s mode of narrative is rather the mode that Marie-Laure Ryan calls possessing narrativity as it enables the interpreter to make connections and construct a narrative image of the hidden story of acculturation that ties the pieces of the rather fragmented ‘text’ together.

Offline Reviews, USA

This virtual postcard blends art and instruction in unique ways. Unlike a paper postcard, this CD-ROM brings you to Tunisia, along with an excellent score of traditional music (one of the best features on the disk). One learns about Phoenician settlers who landed in Tunisia more than 2000 years ago and the fascinating Semitic inscriptions they left behind. It also teaches you the Arabic alphabet and a select vocabulary. Yet, strictly speaking, this is not an instructional CD-ROM, and in fact, its philosophical orientation and pedagogy are driven by artistic concerns. Ancient Phoenician scripts mingle with Arabic calligraphy, ruins and modern villages overlap, the sound of children playing in the suq accents a collage of Tunisian images; language and art in effect become one. It is a sort of immersion experience, where sights and sounds are appreciated as much as acquired. Postcard from Tunis is a pleasant experience that offers a new paradigm for instructional (especially language learning) technology. If the tourist industry gets hold of this, I imagine we will see many more such virtual postcards from the rest of the world. I for one, look forward to it. Recommended for adults and children alike. (April 1999)

NewMedia Magazine, USA

Sally Pryor's Postcard From Tunis is a personal expression of her love for the North African city. Pryor focuses on the art and history of symbolic communication (writing and images) to give her audience a richer understanding of how Arabic people interact, and then she expands on this idea to show how humans interact with computers. The title is accompanied by a soundtrack which contains on-location recordings of people and places in Tunis, as well as studio recordings of original Arabic music and drumming.

Why it's a winner

Avoiding a possibly trite documentary format, Pryor expresses her appreciation for the city by teaching its writing and language. Then the innovative interface reinforces that teaching by letting users read as well as write in the language. "As you might in a foreign country, you can't help picking up a few local words," says Pryor. "And as you make your way, you may even learn to read these words in Arabic." The soundtrack is also superb and successfully conveys the atmosphere of Tunis. (November 1997)

VideoBrasil Archives, Brasil

A portrait of the Tunisian capital. The authoress paid homage to her husband's family origins by means of an emotional trip, where the navigator encounters maps, photos, drawings and prints of one of the richest cultures in North Africa. The intention of the work is not to transpose to CD-ROM documentary's language, but instead to widen visual potentialities, relying on interactivity. The playful tone of the illustrations widens the target public; as with the representation of the Arab alphabet, in which each icon is accompanied by its corresponding sound. To teach with fun - or to have fun whilst learning - such is the work's proposal.

CD-ROM Planet, Japan

... On the very opposite scale, "Postcard from Tunis" is a personal, poetical and subjective view of Tunisian with no pretense at all to "exhaust the subject". Author/artist/ programmer Sally Pryor in Australia has a personal affair with Tunisia as her husband is originated from this very country. "Postcard from Tunis" is a sort of multimedia sketchbook, a collection of screens that inform about daily life in Tunis and the Arabic writing alphabet and pronunciation. It makes an extensive use of rollover technic where the user triggers events, especially sounds and small animations, simply by moving the mouse on hot spots. "Postcard from Tunis" doesn't claim to teach Arabic or anything in particular. It simply provide an impressionistic view of a town and a country to which the author has a deep attachment. Although the very word "postcard" refers to the visual world, the postcards here are very much sustained, and at times dominated, by audio elements, a mix of Arabic words voiced over with sounds drawn from daily life and a rich audio track of traditional melodies that hopefully never fall into lame exotism. Contrary to titles with big budgets, "Postcard from Tunis" is one among a growing number of "minor" titles that will almost never find their way to CD-ROM shops' racks, although it has already been granted several prizes at international multimedia competition. "Postcard from Tunis" was still on beta version when I received it, and the author was shifting her plan to release it originally as CD-ROM, and trying to reshape it into a CD-Extra with enhanced audio tracks. It is this very kind of title that may save documentary interactive multimedia from "political correctness" and boredom. That is why it should be encouraged and advertised. (February 1998)

Adrien Stewart, Australia

...Sally Pryor's Postcard From Tunis was the work that interested me most. Tunis is a small Libyan town on the shores of the Mediteranean Sea. The cd enables the user to wander about the town picking up bits of local colour and language as you go. Language is the central theme of Postcard from Tunis and the user is presented with translations from Arabic into English/French. Presented with a picture of a boat, for example, you click on and the voice says: faluka. At the same time the written (Arabic) word lights up in time with its pronunciation. Using the cd gives you an idea of the geography, economy, history, lifestyle and music of the town whilst subtley teaching you to speak a little Arabic as well. (April 1998)

Mike Leggett, Australia

...part travel diary, part language coach

Observatoire Leonardo des Arts et des Techno-sciences, France

Postcard from Tunis est l'évocationimpressioniste de ce pays et de sa capitale à travers des "cartes postales", images prises lors d'un séjour qui pourraitêtre celui d'un hôte de passage, d'un vacancier ouvert etattentif, prêt à la découverte et pas uniquement préoccupé par son bronzage.

Trilingue (anglais, français, arabe), il relève de"l'histoire personnelle" : le mari de l'artiste est tunisien. Si legenre comporte de nombreuses oeuvres sur cd-rom ou en ligne, peuarrivent à transcender l'anecdotique.

Postcard from Tunis réussit pleinement traduire l'atmosphère des lieux qu'il dépeint: les sons, les bruits, les chants, la musique, les couleurs, les dessins des céramiques, les gens, ont l'épaisseur quidonne vie aux images. On sent presque les odeurs: le jasmin, lafleur d'oranger ou les éspices des souks et desmarchés.

Il introduit, avec légèreté, l'ouverture à une autre culture : par l'apprentissage, même superficiel, des mots de la langue, des signes de l'écriture, par l'évocation de la richesse de cette culturepluri-millénaire, creuset des civilisationsméditerranéennes. Pourtant il laisse un peu sur sa faim, principalement à cause du système de navigation qui fait transiter chaquetableau, chaque "carte" par l'image intermédiaire de la mainde fatma. Organisé sur la base d'une grillecartésienne, ce cd-rom aurait gagné à prendrecomme modèle la structure rhizomatique des médina. (June 1999)