Wednesday, June 23, 2004

The Chimp and His Patriot Act, 3rd Installment

And finally for today, from McSweeney's Daily Reason to Dispatch Bush DAY 60: On the morning of May 11, 2004, Steve Kurtz's wife, Hope Kurtz, died of cardiac arrest in her sleep. When the police arrived they found unusual artwork made with biological substances and laboratory contraptions like Petri dishes. So they called the FBI. The FBI arrived at Kurtz's home and detained him, impounding his artwork, books, manuscripts, computers, and his wife's body, because of a new provision to the Bush Administration's 2001 Patriot Act. The provision states that it is illegal to possess "any biological agent, toxin, or delivery system" without the justification of "prophylactic, protective, bona fide research, or other peaceful purpose." Kurtz is an art professor at SUNY-Buffalo. He writes and makes artwork about the politics of biotechnology, often using unusual materials such as sealed Petri dishes with the kind of E. coli that is commonly used in science labs in colleges and universities. He and his wife were the founding members of the Critical Art Ensemble, described on the group's resume as "tactical media practitioners of various specializations," who "focus on the exploration of the intersections between art, critical theory, technology, and political activism." Kurtz has helped write several books on the subject of biotechnology, including Digital Resistance: Explorations in Tactical Media, and Electronic Civil Disobedience and Other Unpopular Ideas. On June 15th the FBI tried to indict Kurtz on unknown charges at a grand jury hearing, despite earlier test results that showed no harmful specimens were used by the artist. For now, Kurtz is free on bail. However, the FBI continues to subpoena witnesses for future hearings. The FBI also seized Critical Art Ensemble's performance materials concerning genetically altered food. The materials were scheduled to be part of an exhibit titled "The Interventionists: Art in the Social Sphere" at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, Mass. Kurtz's colleague, Robin Held, was questioned by the FBI. She said, "they asked incredibly inflammatory questions. ... I remember one of them asked, 'If you heard there was an explosion in Buffalo that killed 100 people and Steve Kurtz was involved, would you be surprised?' I said, 'Yes, of course, there couldn't be an explosion involving Steve. He's an artist, not a terrorist.'" She concluded that "[Kurtz] is caught up in some Kafkaesque drama..." (Sources: Duke, Lynne. "The FBI's Art Attack: Offbeat Materials at Professor's Home Set Off Bioterror Alarm," Washington Post, 2 June 2004.

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