[spectre] Fwd: letter of support for Critical Art Ensemble

Barbara Lattanzi threads at wildernesspuppets.net
Thu Jun 3 03:37:41 CEST 2004

The following was posted today on the New Media Curating list.


Date:    Wed, 2 Jun 2004 22:18:57 +0200
From:    Inke Arns <inke.arns at SNAFU.DE>
Subject: Fwd: letter of support for Critical Art Ensemble

this might help ...

greetings, inke

------- Forwarded message follows -------
Date sent:              Wed, 2 Jun 2004 21:44:20 +0200 (CEST)
Subject:                Fwd: letter of support for Critical Art Ensemble
From:                   "Natasa Petresin" <petresin at mail.ljudmila.org>
To:                     hinde at xs4all.nl
Send reply to:          petresin at mail.ljudmila.org

------------- Original Message----------
Subject: From:    "gregory g. sholette"
<gsholette at artic.edu> Date:    Wed, June 2, 2004 8:06 pm To:
Recipient List Suppressed:;


Dear Friends and Colleagues,

By now many of you have heard about the alarming
situation surrounding artist Stve Kurtz, the
Critical Art Ensemble and their investigation by
the FBI and Attorney General. Below is a sample
letter that I ask you to consider cutting,
pasting, reworking to your own ends and then
sending to the Director and Board President of
the College Art Association (CAA). PLEASE

Certainly, Kurtz is not the first person to be
placed under duress and suspicion by the US
government since 911 but it is vital for the art
and academic community to draw a line here and
now before more damage is done to our freedom. I
hope you will act  on this matter and forward
this letter to others.  PLEASE BE SURE TO COPY
LETTERS TO: <info at caedefensefund.org>

gregory sholette

Material support can be directed through this
site: http://www.caedefensefund.org/
To join a list serve about the case please go to:
up/CAE_Defense A detailed news account is available at:
----------------------------------------------------CAA SAMPLE


Susan Ball
Executive Director
The College Art Association
275 Seventh Avenue
New York, New York 10001
< nyoffice at collegeart.org >

   cc: Ellen Levy, President of the CAA Board of Trustees

Dear Susan Ball:

I am writing to express my alarm at the
increasing intimidation and attempts to artistic
freedom of speech and expression by
representatives of the United States government.
The current grand jury investigation of artist
Steve Kurtz is the most recent case that impacts
the US arts community. It is my hope that the
College Art Association, in keeping with its
recent "Resolution on Art and Intellectual
Freedom in Times of War," will act swiftly and
decisively to make public its strong opposition
to government interference in the arts and will
act to support Steven Kurtz who is a fellow
member of the arts community in his time of need.

The CAA must take a leading role and stand for
the protection of the rights of artists,
scholars, academics and researchers to create, to
dissent, to investigate the complex world we live
in because this is our basic freedom under the
First Amendment.




The facts in the case are as follows:

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
whose artwork educates the public about the
politics of biotechnology. Their most recent
project included a mobile DNA extraction
laboratory to test grocery bought food for
possible transgenic contamination. It was this
equipment along with common research bacteria to
be used in another project that triggered a
bizarre chain of events after his wife's sudden
death on May 11th from cardiac arrest. Kurtz
called 911 but when the police arrived and
spotted his art supplies including test tubes and
Petri-dishes they called in the Joint Terrorism
Task Force and the FBI. He was detained, the
house cordoned off, his art, library and computer
impounded. Only after the Commissioner of Public
Health for New York State tested samples from the
home and announced there was no public safety
threat was Kurtz able to return home and recover
his wife's body. Yet the FBI would not release
the impounded materials that included artwork for
an exhibition at Massachusetts Museum of
Contemporary Art that opened without the group's
work. Then, on June 15th, a grand jury in
Buffalo, N.Y. will convene to decide whether or
not to indict Steve Kurtz on charges (which have
yet to be officially announced) stemming from the
FBI's apparent confusion of Kurtz's artwork with
"biological weapons." Yet, there is likely an
underlying political aspect to this story. Adele
Henderson, chair of Kurt's department at the
State University at Buffalo, was asked by the FBI
on May 21 why Kurtz's organization (the art
ensemble) is listed as a collective rather than
by its individual members and how it is funded.
Meanwhile, several members of the Critical Art
Ensemble have been subpoenaed to testify in the


---------------------------------------------------------------- MORE



The FBI's Art Attack
Offbeat Materials at Professor's Home Set Off Bioterror Alarm

   By Lynne Duke
   Washington Post Staff Writer
   Wednesday, June 2, 2004; Page C01

   NEW YORK -- "A forensic investigation of FBI
trash." On the telephone, Beatriz da Costa says
it wryly. Her humor sounds bitter. She's talking
about the detritus of a terror probe at the
Buffalo home of her good friends, the Kurtzes.

   She's talking about the pizza boxes, Gatorade
jugs, the gloves, the gas mask filters, the
biohazard suits: the stuff left by police, FBI,
hazmat and health investigators after they
descended on the Kurtz home and quarantined the

The garbage tells a story of personal tragedy, a
death in the Kurtz household, that sparked
suspicions (later proved unfounded) of a
biohazard in the neighborhood. And it tells a
story of the times in which we live, with almost
daily warnings about terror, and with law
enforcement primed to pounce.

Steve Kurtz, a Buffalo art professor, discovered
on the morning of May 11 that his wife of 20
years, Hope Kurtz, had stopped breathing. He
called 911. Police and emergency personnel
responded, and what they saw in the Kurtz home
has triggered a full-blown probe -- into the
vials and bacterial cultures and strange
contraptions and laboratory equipment.

The FBI is investigating. A federal grand jury
has been impaneled. Witnesses have been
subpoenaed, including da Costa.

Kurtz and his late wife were founders of the
Critical Art Ensemble, an internationally
renowned collective of "tactical media" protest
and performance artists. Steve Kurtz, 48, has
focused on the problems of the emergence of
biotechnology, such as genetically modified food.
He and the art ensemble, which also includes da
Costa, have authored several books including
"Digital Resistance: Explorations in Tactical
Media" and "Electronic Civil Disobedience and
Other Unpopular Ideas," both published by

The day of his wife's death, Kurtz told the
authorities who he is and what he does.

"He explained to them that he uses [the
equipment] in connection with his art, and the
next thing you know they call the FBI and a full
hazmat team is deposited there from Quantico --
that's what they told me," says Paul Cambria, the
lawyer who is representing Kurtz. "And they all
showed up in their suits and they're hosing each
other down and closing the street off, and all
the news cameras were there and the head of the
[Buffalo] FBI is granting interviews. It was a
complete circus."

   Cambria, the bicoastal Buffalo and Los Angeles
lawyer best known for representing pornographer
Larry Flynt, calls the Kurtz episode a "colossal

FBI agents put Kurtz in a hotel, where they
continued to question him. Cambria says Kurtz
felt like a detainee over the two days he was at
the hotel. Paul Moskal, spokesman for the Buffalo
office of the FBI, says the bureau put Kurtz in a
hotel because his home had been declared off
limits. The probe, Moskal says, was a
by-the-books affair from the very beginning.

   "Post-9/11 protocol is such that
first-responders have all been given training
about unusual things and unusual situations,"
Moskal says.

And obviously, says Lt. Jake Ulewski, spokesman
for the Buffalo police, what the cops eyeballed
raised some alarms. "He's making cultures? That's
a little off the wall."

Erie County health officials declared the Kurtz
home a potential health risk and sealed it for
two days while a state lab examined the bacterial
cultures found inside. Officials won't divulge
what precisely was examined, but it turned out
not to be a danger to public health. And the
house was reopened for use.

   Still, federal authorities think something in
that house might have been illegal, Cambria
surmises. But Cambria denies there was anything
illegal in the house. William Hochul Jr., chief
of the anti-terrorism unit for the U.S.
attorney's office in the Western District of New
York, would not comment on the investigation.

Kurtz, on Cambria's advice, isn't speaking to the press either.

   Da Costa, a professor at the University of
California at Irvine who has flown to Buffalo to
help out, says Kurtz is "depressed" and dealing
with the loss of his wife, who died of a heart
attack. Today the Buffalo arts community will
memorialize her.

Adele Henderson, chair of the art department of
the State University of New York at Buffalo,
where Kurtz has tenure, is among the people
who've been questioned by the FBI.

On May 21, she says, the FBI asked her about
Kurtz's art, his writings, his books; why his
organization (the art ensemble) is listed as a
collective rather than by its individual members;
how it is funded.

"They asked me if I'd be surprised if I found out
he was found to be involved in bioterrorism," she

   Her response? "I am absolutely certain that Steve would not be

They also asked about "his personal life,"
Henderson says, but she would not describe the
questions or her responses.

   The investigation, she says, will have no
bearing on Kurtz's standing at the university,
where he is an associate professor. (Prior to
Buffalo, he taught at Carnegie Mellon University.)

"This is a free speech issue, and some people at
the university remember a time during the
McCarthy period when some university professors
were harassed quite badly," she says.

   Nonetheless, considering the kind of art Kurtz
practices and the kind of supplies he uses, "I
could see how they would think it was really

For instance: the mobile DNA extracting machine
used for testing food products for genetic
contamination. Such a machine was in Kurtz's
home. His focus, in recent years, has been on
projects that highlight the trouble with
genetically modified seeds.

   In November 2002, in an installation called
"Molecular Invasion," Kurtz grew genetically
modified seeds in small pots beneath growth lamps
at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, then engineered
them in reverse with herbicide, meaning he killed

"We thought it was very important to have
Critical Art Ensemble here because we try to have
our visiting artist's program present work that
takes our curriculum to the next step," says
Denise Mullen, vice dean of the Corcoran College
of Art and Design, whose Hemicycle Gallery hosted
Kurtz's molecular exhibit.

Beyond the cutting edge of art, she says, "we
want work that is really bleeding edge."

In Buffalo, in the aftermath of the bioterror
probe that has found no terror, activist artists
have scooped up the refuse from the Kurtz front
yard and taken it away, perhaps, says da Costa,
to create an art installation.

   © 2004 The Washington Post Company

gregory sholette
280 Riverside Drive #3E
New York, NY 10025
<gsholette at artic.edu>

------- End of forwarded message -------

Inke Arns


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