Journalisms — 06.15.04 Demo for CAE–bus NYC-Buffalo

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Journalisms — 06.15.04 Demo for CAE–bus NYC-Buffalo
1. Bus to Buffalo – Organization
2. Call for demonstration
3. Intro and a call to writing letters
4. CAA Sample Letter
5. Facts about the case
6. More From The Washington Post of June 1 2004
1. Bus to Buffalo – Organization
Hello all,
A group of us in NYC are organizing a bus for 2 days up to Buffalo in
support of CAE. The plan is to leave on the evening of the 14th and
return the following evening. We are currently exploring options as to
the type of bus and would like to gauge how many people will be
traveling from the NYC area. The cost could run anywhere from $45 –
$70 each based on the amount of travelers. If you are interested
contact us ASAP as reservations must be made soon.
Please pass this request on to your mailing lists as we’d like to bring as
many people as possible up to Buffalo.
best, Valerie
Sharon Hayes purpleshaze@yahoo.com
Valerie Tevere neurotransmitter@mail.com
2. Call for demonstration
The following comes from the CAE defense fund website:
The committee to organize CAE Defense is calling for a peaceful
demonstration of support outside the Grand Jury hearings on the case
of Steve Kurtz (CAE), beginning on June 15th.
WHERE: County Court House, 138 Delaware Ave. Buffalo, NY.
WHEN: 9 AM, June 15, 2004
CONTACT: organize@caedefensefund.org
On May 30, members of the performance art collective Critical Art
Ensemble were subpoenaed by the FBI. The FBI is planning to indict
Steve Kurtz, a member of CAE before a grand jury on June 15, on
unknown charges. CAE is under investigation for their use of scientific
equipment to produce art projects that question the relationship
between commerce, politics and biotechnology. Critical Art Ensemble
have been producing performances and theory that merge political
realities with technology and theater since 1987. Thus far six
subpoenas have been issued to: Adele Henderson, Chair of the Art
Department at UB; Andrew Johnson, Professor of Art at UB; Paul
Vanouse, Professor of Art at UB; Beatriz da Costa, Professor of Art at
UCI; Steven Barnes, FSU; and Dorian Burr.
Your help is needed to fight the criminalization of their work.
3. Intro and a call to writing letters
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).
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
gregory sholette
Material support can be directed through this site:
To join a list serve about the case please go to:
A detailed news account is available at:
4. CAA Sample Letter
Susan Ball
Executive Director
The College Art Association
275 Seventh Avenue
New York, New York 10001

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.
5. Facts about the case
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 case.
6. More From The Washington Post of June 1 2004
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
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 place.
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
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 says.
Her response? “I am absolutely certain that Steve would not be involved.”
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 strange.”
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 them.
“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
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
© 2004 The Washington Post Company