ashcroft is after artists-activists

Below is a release/call-to-action I just came across on a new media art list (Rhizome.org). Scary stuff. But the response from CAE is encouraging.

I have a strong feeling that all this Orwellian bullshit will backfire soon. People are awakening and summoning courage. The tipping point is imminent, if it hasn't already arrived -- Abu Ghraib, Bush's ratings, the NYTimes's mea culpa over Iraq war coverage, particularly WMD reporting (two editorials: the apologetic one from the editors and then the follow-up report from the ombudsman). The Bush house of cards is tumbling.

May 25, 2004

Feds Unable to Distinguish Art from Bioterrorism
Grieving Artist Denied Access to Deceased Wife's Body


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.


A small fortune has already been spent on lawyers for Kurtz and other
Critical Art Ensemble members. A defense fund has been established at
http://www.rtmark.com/CAEdefense/ to help defray the legal costs which
will continue to mount so long as the investigation continues. Donations
go directly to the legal defense of Kurtz and other Critical Art Ensemble
members. Should the funds raised exceed the cost of the legal defense, any
remaining money will be used to help other artists in need.

To make a donation, please visit http://www.rtmark.com/CAEdefense/

For more information on the Critical Art Ensemble, please visit

Articles about the case:

On advice of counsel, Steve Kurtz is unable to answer questions regarding
his case. Please direct questions or comments to Carla Mendes

evolving consciousness at the UN

Here's what sounds like a stimulating and inspiring discussion on June 2, forwarded by someone peripherally involved.

Building a Culture of Peace and the Evolution of Consciousness

Wed, June 2, 2004
3pm – 6pm
United Nations Headquarters
Conference Room 8, Floor 1B
46th Street and 1st Ave, Manhattan

~// The Role of the United Nations and Civil Society in Promoting a Culture of Peace — H.E. Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States

~// Is There a Relationship Between the Evolution of Consciousness & a Culture of Peace?

~// The Roerich Pact & Banner of Peace-Forerunners, UNESCO World Heritage Program

~// The Planetary Cultural Trust as Depicted in Tito Dupret’s Interactive Spherical Panoramic Digital Photographs of UNESCO World Heritage Sites

~// Audience Participation

I had the good fortune of profiling Tito Dupret last year in an article about his work. Moved (shocked and outraged) by the Taliban's destruction of the 175-foot and 120-foot Bamiyan Buddha statues in early 2001, he established WHTour, a nonprofit organization dedicating to documenting for posterity and raising awareness of all 754 (and growing) sites registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List in the form of panoramic photographs and QuickTime VR films. This Belgian has been backpacking to sites around the world ever since. Read the article and check out his site. It's an inspiring story.

To participate in the event, a valid UN grounds pass is required. To obtain one, email your name (exactly as it appears on a picture ID you'll take with you) as soon as possible and no later than May 25, 2004 to UN@aquaac.org. You can also mail it to 233 Bay Street No. 206, Jersey City, NJ 07302, or phone 718.875.8251.

Your pass will be at the UN Pass Office at 801 UN Plaza at 45th St. and 1st Ave. (across from the UN main building), available between 9am - 12:45pm and 2pm - 4pm. The UN Visitor’s Entrance is on 46th St., where you'll need to go through security. Please allow a minimum of 15 minutes for this process.

This event, sponsored by the Aquarian Age Community, a non-profit, accredited nongovernmental organization (NGO) in association with the UN Department of Public Information, would not be possible without the kind support of the UN High Representative, H.E. Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury. The group also appreciates the kind support of the NGO Operation Peace Through Unity and the newly formed New York-based CONGO Committee on Spirituality, Values and Global Concerns.

From the flyer: "Dedicated to the Establishment of Right Human Relations, Leading to a Planetary Culture of Peace — In Cooperation with the UN International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World (2001-2010)"