Z I N E n
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a journal of new media experimental visual literary theory practice


Ted Warnell


Features, reviews, papers

I was sitting in Else's, my favorite bar, with a friend recently, discussing its decor.

First published as In Other Words at Art & Technology, The Mining Company, New York. Copyright © 1997 by The Mining Company and Ted Warnell. All rights reserved.


1997 OCT 11

Else's Bar

There are statues
of witches on a shelf; a huge wooden seagull suspended from the ceiling which slowly flaps its wings; photographs of every barman in its four year existence hung in the kitchen; a goldfish tank containing a fake skull on top of the piano. From its tables laminated with newspaper cuttings and photos to its dark green brick walls, Else's has a fascinating atmosphere.

What Else's doesn't have is the Internet. I bet Else herself, the 56 year-old Norwegian proprietor, has never touched a computer in her life. But there is a similarity between the bar and the Web.

As we drank, I explained to my friend how Else's interior design had come about. When it opened almost none of the elements mentioned above existed, yet still it had a special ambiance. Since then the decor has not changed. Instead it has evolved, without following any special master plan, on some occasions more radically than others, with the staff and the customers making subtle alterations to their surroundings.

    "You can't build permanent foundations when the ground is shifting under your feet, and the ground the Internet is built on is constantly shifting. That is its strength."
Hence the similarity
to the Internet. In July I started a Web site for my own written and visual work, called Samsara. I had very little knowledge of HTML (still don't), but what I learned enabled me to achieve my objective: to create a site where the emphasis is on content rather than flashy design and animated gimmicks.

Over the next couple of months I made certain changes, such as adding a comments form and including banner exchange ads. The design stayed basically the same, with some tweaking taking placed after I received feedback from friends. I also did research on other artistic sites on the Web, and subscribed to a mailing list to learn about how to publicize it.

I had always intended to include works by other artists and writers on Samsara, but wasn't sure what format this would take. I've now decided that I will produce a monthly or bi-monthly edition as well as keeping a kind of permanent collection, so that the site will become a combination gallery and magazine. I've also decided to include content which is not solely 'artistic', i.e., documentary photography and non-fiction writing.

So already the concept is evolving. The decor is changing. As more people visit I expect to receive suggestions and constructive criticism. Who knows where my site will end up? I certainly don't. And that is the beauty of the Web: it is organic and fluid. There's no need for a grand strategy. You can throw twelve-month marketing plans out of the window. Target audience? Forget it. There is no audience, only participants.

You can't build permanent foundations when the ground is shifting under your feet, and the ground the Internet is built on is constantly shifting. That is its strength. Talented, creative, lateral-thinking individuals will succeed in it, just as Else has succeeded in making her bar one of the most popular in Montreal.

I don't have any special advice or answers as far as building an Internet presence is concerned, and anyone who says they do is mistaken. There are no rules, only as many ways of communicating as there are Web sites. So I prescribe going with the flow. Evolve. See where your own digital pathway leads. To paraphrase the Buddhists: on the Net you can only arrive at true wisdom when you admit that you know nothing.


John Bourassa-Dutton is a Montreal television director, writer, and artist. He was born in England in 1966, and since then has drunk more pints of Guinness than he's had hot dinners, which is fortunate, considering the standard of English cooking. He also runs a Web site called Samsara. Email him at
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Copyright © 1998 Ted Warnell. All Rights Reserved