Steve Kurtz, artist, activist and researcher, arrested by the FBI
Steve Kurtz of Critical Art Ensemble spoke about his case for the first time since his arrest in the USA. He was accompanied by Claire Pentecost from the Critical Art Ensemble Defense Fund.
Steve Kurtz was wrongly arrested in 2004, the FBI on charges relating to bioterrorism, because he had sourced some harmless bacteria to use in an artistic project. The bioterrorism charges were finally dropped by a Grand Jury, after an international storm of protest, however Steve still faces FBI charges of mail fraud (a charge traditionally used by the FBI when they can't pin another charge on someone - Critical Art Ensemble are known for their political views expressed through their work). Also indicted was Robert Ferrell, head of the Department of Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Public Health. The charges concern technicalities of how Ferrell helped Kurtz to obtain $256 worth of harmless bacteria for one of Kurtz's art projects.
Artists, scientists and civil liberties groups internationally have publicly condemned both the old and new charges and the continued harrassment of Steve Kurtz and many people that he has worked with. These new charges still carried a potential jail sentence of 20 years and threaten many researchers in the sciences who source material in a similar way.
Critical Art Ensemble (CAE) is a collective of five tactical media practitioners of various specialisations including computer graphics and web design, film/video, photography, text art, book art and performance. Formed in 1987, CAE's focus has been on the exploration of the intersections between art, critical theory, technology and political activism. The group has exhibited and performed at diverse venues internationally, ranging from the street, to the museum, to the internet. Museum exhibitions include the Whitney Museum and the New Museum in NYC, Corcoran Museum in Washington D.C., ICA in London, MCA in Chicago, Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt and the Natural History Museum in London.
The collective has written seven books, with writings translated into 18 languages. Titles include The Electronic Disturbance (1994), Electronic Civil Disobedience & Other Unpopular Ideas (1996), Flesh Machine: Cyborgs, Designer Babies, & New Eugenic Consciousness (1998), Digital Resistance: Explorations in Tactical Media (2001), Molecular Invasion (2002), Marching Plague (2006) and Disturbances (2012).
Their participatory theatre aims to involve the public in the processes of biotechnology in order to contribute to the development of an informed and critical public discourse on contemporary bioscience.