The I.P.Sharp Connection

I.P.Sharp Associates (IPSA) was an APL timesharing system based in Toronto but operating a world-wide network providing computer services to businesses via telephone. IPSA had offices in most major cities with local dial-in connection to the central computers in Toronto. In order to maintain contact with - and to support - their corporate clients, a computer communications (E-mail) program called Mailbox was implemented - which meant that IPSA was a kind of "mini-internet" existing outside the academic / military territory of the early internet/arpanet.
These were relatively early days in the story of computer-based networking and nobody knew what the effects might be on society - aside from commercial efficiency. In the late 1970's Bob Bernecky, chief APL programmer at IPSA, being interested in art - especially in art involving technology - provided a free user-account to Toronto artist Norman White to see what an artist might do with a networked computer system. This resulted in computer networking becoming known and, in a small way, accessible to artists.


The first use of the I.P.Sharp network for a world-wide artists' communications project was Interplay, a computer communications project organised by Bill Bartlett for the "Computer Culture" conference in Toronto in 1979.
Bartlett contacted artists in cities around the world in which an IPSA office was located and arranged for the local offices to provide free accounts and technical assistance in order for the artists to participate in the Interplay on-line conference. The participating artists were located in Canberra, Edmonton, Houston, New York, Toronto, Sydney, Vancouver, and Vienna. Interplay used Confer, the IPSA conference program, designed to allow IPSA staff and clients to discuss system issues in a multi-user environment without the delays inherent in Mailbox (email) exchange. Interplay was therefore basically what we now know as an on-line "chat".

Artbox / Artex

The availability of a computer network for artists was a very exciting development but it exposed a basic problem and inconsistency. For, while I.P.Sharp Associates provided access to the new electronic communications technology for the actual events (interplay and the 1980 Artists' Use of Telecommunications Conference), the organisation was still being carried out by mail and (budget permitting) telephone. This seemed to be a bit absurd so in in the autumn of 1979, Robert Adrian and Gottfried Bach (IPSA manager) in Vienna and Bill Bartlett in Victoria, B.C., began to work on the implementation of a simple, cheap electronic mail program which artists could use to create a network for the organisation of communication projects. First results were reported in October and tests began in mid-1980 of ARTBOX, the prototype for ARTEX. It was operational by the end of 1980.
After many mutations and modifications ARTBOX was re-launched as ARTEX in 1982. In about 1985 IPSA introduced a simpler and much cheaper version of the MAILBOX facility and ARTEX was incorporated as a "special interest group" -- where it remained until the I.P.Sharp APL network was taken over by Reuters in 1989 and terminated in 1991.