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The Art Bin turns five
How it all started - and why

by Karl-Erik Tallmo

Almost each and every issue of The Art Bin has had a different logotype. This is what the knowledge issue from April 1998 looked like. The logo in full size (opens up in a new window).

Marika af Trolle's artwork "Musse" ("Mickey") was perfect for the special comics issue, which featured articles about the second most famous Disney artists Paul Murry and Tony Strobl. The start page in full size (opens up in a new window).

The start page of the very first issue of The Art Bin, up online on April 18th 1995. See the page in full size (opens up in a new window). The "hint of the month" here, an amazing story by Ambrose Bierce, where time stops, is still highly recommendable!

In the "Origo" section of The Art Bin, the idea is to publish source texts in their original languages, and old texts should not be modernized. Georg Stiernhielm's "Hercules" was among the first source texts to be published in 1995, transcribed directly from the fraktur original, printed in Swedish in 1658.

From the presentation on the front page, when H.G. Wells' remarkable text about the "world encyclopedia" was published online. Wells predicted global networking back in 1937 already - but he was thinking of microfilm, not computers. This issue was released in July 1995.

The "virtual museum" about the female natural healer Kisamor (1788-1842) has attracted much attention both in Sweden and abroad. She was a "terrifying hag" - some people even thought she resembled Napoleon. She cured the Swedish king, but she was also prosecuted for murder, when a man died from drinking one of her decoctions.

In August 1997 the special issue about Stalinism was published, with, for example, the report of the court proceedings from the Moscow trials of 1936,an extensive documentation never before on the Web. The start page in full size (opens up in a new window).

The Art Bin logotype, Christmas 1998. The start page scrollable in full size (opens up in a new window).

The December issue 1997 featured French author Emmanuel Bove. The start page in full size (opens up in a new window).

Logotype as picture puzzle, August 1999. This issue also dealt with the word "OK", its origin and how it is used both in software and in everyday conversations. The start page in full size (opens up in a new window).

The two years anniversary issue, 1997, featured an interview with Swedish choirmaster Eric Ericson. The vignette in full size (opens up in a new window).

In October of 1998 The Art Bin published a scrollable Stockholm panorama from 1897, 25 inches wide on the computer screen. It was made by photographer Ernst Roesler and consists of four combined exposures.

The paintings of William Turner and the texts about Turner by John Ruskin were put together in an issue released in February 1996.

Paul Renner's original design for the typeface Futura was used for the logo in October 1998. Note that the letter "a" comes in different forms, and that the base line height differs. The more conventional Futura we are used to see today was made in 1927. The logotype in full size (opens up in a new window).

The issue about Vienna at the (previous) turn of the century had an unusually small logo. This issue is still online, but since it consists almost entirely of external links, be prepared that many of them will have expired, since documents on the Web change places quite frequently.

THE WORLD WIDE WEB caught my eye for the first time in January 1994. Nine months later, in October, I could no longer resist the urge to start a digital cultural magazine - the one you're reading now.1  This was when I started working on it, the premiere issue was, however, not released until six months later, on April 18th 1995.

The idea to publish some kind of cultural periodical had struck me several times during the years. The first time was probably in the mid 70's, when I considered starting a magazine called Avanti. Back then I was still politically somewhat to the left, so the title suited that inclination as well as my interest for avantgarde music and art. I planned to use "Cum populo ad astra" as the magazine's motto. But each time I felt this urge, I also realized what an incredible amount of work and money it would take to cover production and distribution.

Twenty years later, the situation had changed entirely. Now one could disseminate simple newsletters over the Internet, through Bill Board Systems or on diskette via postal mail. Crucial for my ideas to be realized was, however, the World Wide Web, where text and images could be integrated.

During 1993-94 I wrote several articles in newspapers and magazines about culture on the Internet. I tried to emphasize the good things, but to be honest, there was very little available on the Web that could attract, for instance, the culturally interested public. On the Web sites of American campuses you could find a few cultural 'zines, but they were rather limited to student jargon. There were only a few high quality Web publications, e.g. CTheory and Postmodern Culture - and they still exist today.

Sweden also had an early online publication within the field of arts. The evening paper Aftonbladet published a cultural magazine in print at the beginning of the 90's, and eventually they published a Web edition as well. This was, however, discontinued during the fall of 1995.

”In The Art Bin one should be able to find anything from James Joyce to comics, from computer communication to epics of chivalry.”

In The Art Bin I wanted to publish all such things that I myself wanted to read or have access to on the Web, rare source texts, newly written articles about anything from James Joyce to comics, from computer communication to epics of chivalry - and, naturally, art and music. Especially the possibility to easily find source texts was to me among the greatest benefits of Internet technology. As a journalist or researcher you could sit at your desk at home or at your office and immediately read texts needed for a particular assignment. No more waiting at library loan desks. Instant access. Knowledge a mouseclick away. In spite of everything, there still seemed to be hope for the world.2

For six months, from October '94 until April '95, I was searching for and compiling material, negotiating with copyright holders, scanning images and OCR reading texts. My aim was that The Art Bin already at the premiere would contain an abundant variety, a smorgasbord of cultural diversity. The first upload contained 15 Mb of texts and images.3

The seminal upload included, for instance, Georg Stiernhielm's "Hercules", transcribed from the fraktur edition of 1658, as well as Chaucer's "A Treatise on the Astrolabe" (the oldest known technical manual in English). The Swedish master of "short prose", Uno Eng, was represented with his "Historiettes". There was also a section with medieval Swedish code of law, the "Uadha mal" (Vådamål) from appr. 1350. This original text in old Swedish was also illuminated from two angles, as history of language through an article by Per-Axel Wiktorsson and as history of law through an article by Elsa Sjöholm (these articles are available in Swedish only).

The title of the magazine was not the result of any longish brooding. As an old Disney fan I was fascinated by Uncle Scrooge and his money bin. Would it be possible to talk also about an art bin? I consulted a few American friends on the Net. Sure, it was possible, so I went on with it. Later I learned that there is actually a kind of box for artists, where they keep their brushes and paint tubes, which is called an art bin.

At first I did not want my magazine to be divided into issues. All published material would just constitute a big growing heap, which now and then would be supplemented by upload no 1, upload no 2 etc. Rather soon, however, I realized that the issue metaphor was still needed. For instance, press releases were rather unintelligible if you used the term "upload".

Still, there are advantages with keeping it all in a heap, or database. The same material might be sorted in different ways, you may have menues where the content is sorted chronologically ("issues") or by articles, by source texts or by the included images etc. At the end of the 80's, when I scripted a few databases and other fact collections in the Macintosh program Hypercard, I started to believe that order, in the computer age, should be both local and temporary. You should try not to lock information into certain structures. If you can avoid that, the information may be used and re-used indefinitely.

A Web zine that accumulates its contents in this way also becomes its own archive. Later material may of course refer to earlier stuff - this is possible in print too - but an e-zine may also have older texts refer to newer ones. You can add hyperlinks in old articles, if something has been added later that could illuminate the old content. Accumulation also means that the mass of information grows, and thus its "gravitation" increases, which in turn means that the attraction upon various search engines also gets stronger.

Since the magazine would appear on an international arena it was of course also important that texts should be in several languages, with a Swedish as well as an English start page. Comments by the editor should be chiefly in English, while articles and source texts might be in Swedish, English, German, French or any language using the Latin alphabet.

The first issues did not display any real newspaper-like headlines. Instead I tried to follow the more or less established Web standard of greeting the visitors. "Welcome to the Art Bin Homepage" was the top message in the first few issues. Then there was a link to a list containing the most recently uploaded material, and there was also a reminder of some gem further down in the link hierarchy, that I did not want to sacrifice to oblivion. So inapt though - the new stuff was hidden one link away, while the hint about older material was displayed front page.

”All these portals that are being opened, show that the competition on the Web today stands more and more between individual articles rather than between individual publications.”

Very soon I came to my senses and started to apply more of a traditional newspaper design. When one has a brand new medium at hand, one would really love to give up old metaphors, but the fact is that the newspaper page, that has been tried quite well the last century, works fine with its hierarchy of headlines, its vignettes and other interface elements, and they work both on paper and on the Web. And most important, this is a way of thinking that is well rooted within the target group, the readers, or rather the visitors, as they are called on the Web. This term in itself indicates that something new has happened. We are no longer dealing with faithful subscribers but with passing guests, now and then honoring us by paying a visit. Furthermore, all these portals that are being opened, show that the competition on the Web today stands more and more between individual articles rather than between individual publications.4

The first issue got online on April 18th 1995 and attracted attention from the start. The American newsletter WEBster (later renamed Web-Vantage) wrote in its May issue:

Karl-Erik Tallmo has re-engineered the literary magazine. No longer do readers seeking arts, literature and cultural essays have to bend to paper rules of linear progression. Tallmo, editor of Art Bin, has presented a new concept in magazine formatting: the database. [...] Art Bin is the kind of site that offers information providers a fresh look at the presentation of traditional arts using a new medium. What is most intriguing about this site is the potential it represents. Still in its early stages, Art Bin can only evolve into one of the Web's best art resources.

When the first issue was safely online I distributed a printed leaflet in the "real" world, with the heading "Hereby my invitation", where I asked people to contribute:

Do you compose minimal music? Do you write concrete poetry? Have you written an essay about Barthesian punctum within contemporary cinema? Or about the phrygian bias in Sun Ra’s improvisations? Or have you done some interesting paintings - no fancy gimmicks, just darn good art? Why not share this with the readers of Art Bin? Or do you just hate some of this? Write an article and explain why! Artists, writers, and musicians of all kinds, all over the world, are hereby invited to contribute to the Art Bin. But please contact me first and discuss your idea.

I did not receive many non-requested submissions in those days. Today I get a couple of suggestions each week - stories, poems, or images.

The second upload, that is, issue no 2, online on July 1995, included two of the things I am most proud of having published on the Web.

First, the "virtual museum", dedicated to the remarkable female natural healer Kisamor (1788-1842). My family inherited 28 letters and recipes from her, and my father did research about Kisamor's life and work, planning to write a book. Unfortunately he died in the middle of this project, leaving a huge amount of information behind. What I published was a small part of this collection. The impact of Web publishing is obvious when you consider that these old letters and recipes, which had been deposited at an archive in Sweden and studied by just a few people in the course of 30 years, caught the attention of more than 70,000 people only during the first two years online at the Art Bin. (The Kisamor archive includes some commentary and summaries in English.)

Another important item in the July upload 1995 was H.G. Wells' "The Idea of a Permanent World Encyclopedia," a text from 1937 that anticipates the World Wide Web. He speculates about how we will be able to study objects from museums, simultaneously from locations all over the world. "The whole human memory can be, and probably in a short time will be, made accessible to every individual," Wells wrote and subordinated this thought to another even more magnificent idea, that of the world brain, "this new all-human cerebrum". Wells understood that it is not a question of just pouring out information. We need to promote human thought.

"Art Bin has become a gold mine for those interested in culture," Swedish Macworld Online wrote in July 1995. I was interviewed by Swedish and Norwegian television, and a couple of American radio stations called. Publishing on the anonymous Web means that you sometimes get a search robot as your first reader, before the individuals who sent the robot out may read themselves, and precisely this fascinated author James Gleick, who wrote a column, "The Spiders Stratagem", in the New York Times Magazine (March 3rd, 1996), using The Art Bin as his foremost example.

In February '96 I published a few John Ruskin texts together with pictures of the paintings by William Turner that he wrote about. I had never seen a book with this obvious coupling, so I wanted to show some examples of what it might look like.

In the same issue I also returned to the source material about Kisamor and published a book as a sort of print-on-demand. This was the diary of "authoress" Betty Ehrenborg-Posse, which she wrote during a stay with Kisamor in 1839. It had never been printed, and was available in manuscript form only, at the university library Carolina Rediviva in Uppsala. Still, it is a story very well worth reading, that was also told orally at the famous coffee table of Swedish author and poet Erik Gustaf Geijer. (The book is in Swedish and consists of 62 printer pages in PDF format.)

During six months 1996 The Art Bin was sponsored by the electronic mall "Posten Torget". This is the only economical support the magazine has ever received during its existence. In June that year, one of few critical voices was heard. In Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet, Anna Lundevall explicitly wrote that this sponsoring made me a "whore", and she continued: "he [Karl-Erik Tallmo] started the cultural Web zine Art Bin and struggled on fine and solidly on an idealistic basis. Until he sold himself to the Posten mall. Hopefully he got some nice dough."

In November I entered into the battle about the so-called WIPO treaty, which could have made the whole idea of the World Wide Web impossible. Users could have been forced to pay as soon as an image or a text was copied and stored within their computers, something that happens all the time when you surf the Web. My polemic article on this matter, Copyright Alert, was free for anyone to spread on the Internet or in print.

One of the most popular articles through the years was the one about the at-sign, "@ - a Sign of the Times,", which was later published in several graphic newsletters. Another article with a certain appeal was the review of the book about the pinup girl Bettie Page. (In July 1997 I compiled a rather approximate top 20 list , which is still online.)

The two year anniversary 1997 was celebrated with an extensive interview with choirmaster Eric Ericson, an article which he reportedly was satisfied with himself and thus recommends. The same issue also featured samples from Robert Lietz' remarkable fountain pen project "Topping off", a delightful anomaly in the age of word processing.

In 1998 there was a special issue about knowledge in the digital society. Do we need to keep knowledge in our brains or is it sufficient to have access to it on harddrives and through networks - that was the question. The idea that true knowledge is immensely important for every new generation was the reason behind the publishing (in August 1997) of the documents from the Moscow show trials of 1936, horrifying to read but also absurd, since they were published in the 30's as advocacy for Communism.

The Vienna issue of May '99 was exceptional. It consisted solely of links to external Web pages about Vienna at the previous turn of the century. The links were often connected via the automatic translation service at Alta Vista, for those who wanted, for instance, German texts rendered into (a very rough version of) English. This issue was also part of a discussion about the Internet of the future, when we probably will be able to expand texts more or less freely with the help of other texts and text fragments, that intelligent robots find for us, and texts might be manipulated in many ways, not just through computer translation.

Art Bin is not just text, of course. Among the visual artists who have put their work on display are, for instance, Channa Bankier (computer art), Alessandro Bavari (oil paintings), Brad Brace (computer art), Tom Chambers (computer art), Edvard Derkert (collages), Tania Fred (oil paintings), Linda Hedendahl (oil paintings - but also poetry) and - well, see for yourself at the Gallery section. There is also music, by, for instance, Dror Feiler, Jörgen Adolfsson and Bengt Berger.

Now, after five years of magazine making, I can certify that it is increasingly difficult to find the necessary time. Lecturing, book writing and various consulting assignments take a lot of time. In addition, my health is rather poor, so I cannot work full time. At the beginning, Art Bin was published six times a year, now it has to be four. The magazine attracts between 10,000 and 30,000 visitors to each issue, depending on its content - an annual average is appr. 80,000 visitors. Around sixty percent of those readers are in Sweden, and the rest in other countries.

Financing is a problem, since I am not only investing my own work into the magazine project; I also pay writers for their articles. It will, however, hardly be possible to charge readers in the foreseeable future for a magazine of this kind, to compensate for this cost. Many have tried, but soon been forced to return to giving their publications away for free. The authority that normally subsidizes cultural magazines in Sweden, i.e. The National Council for Cultural Affairs, have hitherto not supported magazines for this very reason - if they are distributed free of charge. Such publishing is probably associated with the kind of printed ad tabloids we are overflowed with, freely distributed with only a few real articles, just as an excuse for the rest. But this is not the way it works on the Net, where streaks of a more altruistic gift economy still prevails. Web publishing often resembles the idea of public libraries, providing culture - popular science, source texts, or background material - free of charge to the public at large. It is, quite simply, a classic ideal of adult education updated to the computer age.

The practice of the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs regarding printed magazines is foremost to support printing and distribution. And the corresponding activities on the Web are - as we all supposedly know - without cost. Or are they? No, the rent one must pay for Web space is certainly not zero. HTML tagging, image processing, page design, text editing, OCR reading, and keeping in touch with contributors are all activities that require a lot of time. Generally time costs, unless one is giving it away, of course. I have never been able to work less than 200 hours to get an issue of The Art Bin online. The issue about the Moscow trials, with the small adjoining Marxist library, required more than 1,500 hours of work.

So far, I have managed without financial support - except for those six months with the "Posten mall" - and there is, of course, some kind of solution for any budget. The magazine might be issued less frequently, using cheaper material, such as older source texts that have fallen into the public domain or texts which writers kindly give away with little or no charge. On the other hand, The Art Bin could also grow considerably, with more music and a higher percentage of specially written original texts, with a more refined form of hypertext concordance and better search possibilities.

Large-scale or small-scale - The Art Bin will probably live on for a while. And, by the way, I would still like to see that article I wished for in the leaflet of 1995, the one about Barthesian punctum within contemporary cinema ...


1. I had been working with hypertext since 1988, and I saw the World Wide Web for the first time at a seminar arranged by Apple Computer in Stockholm in January 1994. There was a demonstration of NCSA Mosaic, the first Web browser that could handle images and text together in the same window. The first beta version of Mosaic was released in February 1993 (version 1.0 was released in November that year). WWW and the HTTP protocol (the rules for transferring hypertext on the Internet) had existed in a more limited form already in 1990-91, but Mosaic was the catalyst that would popularize and spread the Web idea more world wide. [Back]

2. The supply of source texts is plentiful, but there are, as we all know, problems. How can we know that an electronic text is in accordance with its paper original? Digital texts are easily corrupted. I had written articles about this dilemma during 1993-94, both in Swedish and foreign press, so it was this awareness that made me include a warning in every page header in The Art Bin. Check with a printed source if you plan to base other works upon electronically distributed texts such as these, was the message. [Back]

3. In July '95, when issue no 2 was out, the database consisted of 451 files, totally 25 Mb, including 15 Mb images, 3 Mb sounds, and 7 Mb texts, equal to appr. 5,000 book pages of text. The first two weeks that this issue was online, The Art Bin probably attracted (according to somewhat uncertain statistics) around 50,000 readers. That is the amount of requests the Swedish and English start pages got in total. The statistics might be uncertain but are still plausible. It would be much more difficult to attract so many visitors today to a new and fairly exclusive Web site, since competition now is so much more fierce. [Back]

4. See, for instance, Arts & Letters Daily, SciTech Daily Review, Arts Journal, Editor and Publisher, Blue Ear - Global Writing Worth Reading, and Nachrichtendienst für HistorikerInnen. [Back]

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