(Kurtz was funded recently by Creative Capital, a pretty great foundation. Sorry for the long post)

Steve Kurtz 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


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

"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.

Articles about the case:
- selma 5-27-2004 1:42 am

Thanks for this info, Selma. I heard this news the "office" (aka: art gallery where I work) today. Art's been up on pornography charges a bunch of times, but this is the first terrorism charge that I can think of. There must me more. And all more testament to the fact that transversing cultural boundaries is dangerous. This below is from an interview at Lumpen.com by Ryan Griffis.

RG: I've read statements from a member of RTMark expressing uncertainty about the labeling of their activity as art, or rather how the label can be a double-edged sword. I have also heard Guillermo Gomez-Pena say (of his and Sifuentes' work) that they can get away with much more than straight activists because they're artists. How does CAE deal with the reception issue, and are there times when the "Art" label is useful, and others when it's not?

CAE: If CAE has to pick a label, we prefer "tactical media practitioners." However, in keeping with this tendency, we use labels in a tactical manner. If the situation is easier to negotiate using the label "artist," then we will use it; if it's better to use "activist" or "theorist" or "cultural worker," then we will use those labels. Regardless of the label, our activities stay the same. Labels are useful only in so far as they set expectations among those with whom we wish to have a dialogue. The label that best taps the knowledge resources of the audience is the one we try to choose. A lot of this problem has to do with the social constructions of the roles of artist and activist. For the most part, these roles are placed within a specialized division of labor, where one role, segment, or territory is clearly separated from the other. We view ourselves as hybrids in terms of role. To CAE, the categories of artist and activist are not fixed, but liquid, and can be mixed into a variety of becomings. To construct these categories as static is a great drawback because it prevents those who use them from being able to transform themselves to meet particularized needs.

- sally mckay 5-27-2004 6:31 am [add a comment]

"Labels are useful only in so far as they set expectations among those with whom we wish to have a dialogue"

I guess we know who is doing the talking, but I don't see any signs of dialogue.
Pornography, plagiarism (appropriation)
activist, communist, desecrator, terrorist....

- selma 5-27-2004 6:43 pm [add a comment]

rtmark legal defense fund for CAE plus info.
- sally mckay 6-03-2004 8:13 am [add a comment]

Joi Ito is in email contact with the artist.
- jim 6-03-2004 7:04 pm [add a comment]

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