Steve Kurtz, member of the internationally-acclaimed Critical Art Ensemble (CAE), was already suffering from one tragedy when he called 911 early in the morning to tell them his wife had suffered a cardiac arrest and died in her sleep. The police arrived and, cranked up on the rhetoric of the 'War on Terror,' decided Kurtz's art supplies were actually bioterrorism weapons.
Thus began an Orwellian stream of events in which FBI agents abducted Kurtz without charges, sealed off his entire block, and confiscated his computers, manuscripts, art supplies... and even his wife's body.
Like the case of Brandon Mayfield, the Muslim lawyer from Portland imprisoned for two weeks on the flimsiest of false evidence, Kurtz's case amply demonstrates the dangers posed by the USA PATRIOT Act coupled with government-nurtured terrorism hysteria.
Kurtz's case is ongoing, and, on top of everything else, Kurtz is facing a mountain of legal fees. Donations to his legal defense can be made at http://www.rtmark.com/CAEdefense/
Steve Kurtz is Associate Professor in the Department of Art at the State University of New York's University at Buffalo, and a member of the internationally-acclaimed Critical Art Ensemble.
Kurtz's wife, Hope Kurtz, died in her sleep of cardiac arrest in the early morning hours of May 11. Police arrived, became suspicious of Kurtz's art supplies and called the FBI.
Within hours, FBI agents had "detained" Kurtz as a suspected bioterrorist and cordoned off the entire block around his house. (Kurtz walked away the next day on the advice of a lawyer, his "detention" having proved to be illegal.) Over the next few days, dozens of agents in hazmat suits, from a number of law enforcement agencies, sifted through Kurtz's work, analyzing it on-site and impounding computers, manuscripts, books, equipment, and even his wife's body for further analysis. Meanwhile, the Buffalo Health Department condemned his house as a health risk.
Kurtz, a member of the Critical Art Ensemble, makes art which addresses the politics of biotechnology. "Free Range Grains," CAE's latest project, included a mobile DNA extraction laboratory for testing food products for possible transgenic contamination. It was this equipment which triggered the Kafkaesque chain of events.
FBI field and laboratory tests have shown that Kurtz's equipment was not used for any illegal purpose. In fact, it is not even possible to use this equipment for the production or weaponization of dangerous germs. Furthermore, any person in the US may legally obtain and possess such equipment.
"Today, there is no legal way to stop huge corporations from putting genetically altered material in our food," said Defense Fund spokeswoman Carla Mendes. "Yet owning the equipment required to test for the presence of 'Frankenfood' will get you accused of 'terrorism.' You can be illegally detained by shadowy government agents, lose access to your home, work, and belongings, and find that your recently deceased spouse's body has been taken away for 'analysis.'"
Though Kurtz has finally been able to return to his home and recover his wife's body, the FBI has still not returned any of his equipment, computers or manuscripts, nor given any indication of when they will. The case remains open. >from *FBI ABDUCTS ARTIST, SEIZES ART*. Feds Unable to Distinguish Art from Bioterrorism. Grieving Artist Denied Access to Deceased Wife's Body. RT Mark Press Release. via sergi.
> critical art ensemble. a collective of artists dedicated to exploring the intersections between art, technology, radical politics, and critical theory.
> fbi, art, and electronic civil disobedience. 'in seeking charges against these artists, the fbi is seeking charges against an influential group of social activists and theorists. to put things in perspective: i regularly teach courses on civil disobedience, where students study CAE alongside thoreau, gandhi, king, and ACT-UP. the significance of CAE: digitizing and globalizing civil disobedience.' may 31, 2004
> working with wetware: ethics of artist-created and manipulated lifeforms. 'are dna and living systems legitimate art materials? artists have been persuading scientists to let them into their labs to develop contemporary art practices using living biological systems, by altering genetic structures or even creating their own unique life forms.' june 27, 2003
> CleanRooms: art and biotechnology exhibition. 'art works that challenge responses to a science often perceived as secretive and sinister: biotechnology.' october 9, 2002
> open_source_art_hack: new museum exploration. ' in mainstream culture, hacking has many-mostly negative-connotations. especially after september 11, 2001, the usual official response to any kind of hacking has been to indiscriminately codify it as 'cyber-terrorism,' diverting attention from its significant social implications.' april 30, 2002
> child as audience by critical art ensemble, the carbon defense league, and creation is crucifixion. nintendo gameboy reverse-engineering. march, 2001
> do you need masks to understand human artworks?
respect for steve kurtz