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Museum: Background Information

Walker Art Center, 2003
Sawad Brooks was born in Bogota, Colombia, in 1964. He studied computer science, studio art, and art history at the University of Texas at Austin, and media arts and sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His research at the MIT Media Lab involved the cultural fascination with moving images, especially the effect computers have had by giving life to materials usually regarded as inanimate. Brooks recently founded Utensil (http://www.utensil.net), a software design company.

Beth Stryker was born in Philadelphia in 1970. She studied at Columbia College at Columbia University in New York, where she now lives and works. In addition to her collaborative projects with Brooks, she has developed Crossexxxaminations, a multi-author web space and installation, with Virginia Barratt. It was exhibited at Artspace Gallery in Sydney, Australia, in 1998. She also developed Brandon, a web project for the Guggenheim Museum SoHo (1998) in New York, in collaboration with Shu Lea Cheang. Her experience as a curator of digital media and experimental film helps her create collaborative web spaces in which the public can participate. She initiated digital media programs for the New Festival and Mix Festival, both in New York.

DissemiNET is part of the Walker Art Center's Digital Arts Study Collection and can be found in Gallery 9, the Walker's online space for the presentation of digital art. The Walker is a multidisciplinary art center with programs n the visual arts, the performing arts, film and video, and, recently, new media. While these disciplines often overlap, each has its own ways of presenting artists' work in galleries, in dark spaces like the cinema; and onstage. Gallery 9 presents the work of artists who create on and for the Internet--online.

DissemiNET is an important example of an artwork that uses the Internet to allow people anywhere to participate in a communal virtual space. Through the capabilities of the computer, the artwork also creates unexpected links that aim to make the viewers-readers-participants carefully consider the information they are about to consume.

The World Wide Web was created in the 1990s by Tim Berners-Lee as a way to quickly communicate fast-breaking news about research in the sciences. In a sense it was designed as a giant self-publication: anyone could publish his or her work. And anyone almost anywhere could read and view it. DissemiNET intends to both collect stories--for instance, of missing children in El Salvador--as well as disseminate those stories to a much wider public.

DissemiNET is innovative because of the way the artists playfully alter the idea of linking. When you search for a term, such as "child," it finds stories that contain not only that word, but also related ones. This is called a fuzzy search. The texts on DissemiNET are testimonies given by children and parents who were tragically separated during the civil war in El Salvador. Stryker and Brooks attempt to create alternative approaches to the testimonies by connecting one account to another through relationships between individual words. In this way, they go beyond the basic information in these testimonies, creating a more playful and contemplative experience while at the same time respecting and being responsive to the loss they represent.

Copyright 2003 Walker Art Center