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Steve Kurtz, Artist, Critical Art Ensemble, Buffalo, New York

Art and Discipline




September 18, 2008; 56 Minutes; Video

In May 2004, artist Steve Kurtz was detained by the FBI and subject to a four-year federal investigation for alleged links to bioterrorism, an ordeal widely covered in the press and the subject of a documentary film by Lynn Hershman Leeson. This was his first West Coast public lecture since his acquittal in May 2008.

My lecture will be built upon the following premises: First, any action within the cultural landscape performed from a minoritarian political position will be perceived by authority as a ‘contestational’ act. Second, once challenged, any or all of a variety of disciplinary agents will be sent to re-stabilize the discourses of the status quo through the managing or silencing of resistant cultural production.

Over the past two decades, Critical Art Ensemble has encountered many of these agents. Police, FBI, Department of Justice prosecutors, corporate lawyers, politicians, and church officials have attacked, threatened, or denounced CAE for acting against the authoritarian tendencies of Western societies. This lecture chronicles the reasons why our work has elicited such responses, and how and why the violence against cultural resistance has escalated and intensified over the past five years.

—Steve Kurtz, Critical Art Ensemble

Steve Kurtz is a professor of Visual Studies at SUNY Buffalo and a founding member of Critical Art Ensemble (CAE), a collective of tactical media practitioners of various specializations, including computer graphics and web design, wetware, film and video, text art, book art, and interventionist performance. Formed in 1987, CAE’s focus has been on the exploration of the intersections between art, critical theory, technology, and political activism. The collective has performed and produced a wide variety of projects at diverse venues ranging from the street to the museum to the Internet. Critical Art Ensemble has also written six books on various aspects of cultural resistance.