Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Strange Culture

The recent documentary "Strange Culture" by Lynn Hershman Leeson follows the story of artist and professor Steve Kurtz of the Critical Art Ensemble and his 2004 arrest by the FBI. Kurtz is legally prevented from discussing much of the case, so the film uses animation and actors (including Golden Globe winner Tilda Swinton) to tell the story. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, and is hoping to find a distributor.

For those unfamiliar with the story, it goes like this: On the eve of a major exhibit at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, Kurtz rolled over in bed to find that his wife Hope was dead. He called 911 and the police and paramedics dispatched to the home discovered petri dishes and other equipment related to his practice with the CAE. They summoned the FBI, who detained Kurtz the next day (on his way to the funeral home) and questioned him for 22 hours, accusing him of bio-terrorist activities. They sealed off the block around his house and dozens of agents from a number of security task forces in hazardous material suits sifted through his work and impounded many of his possessions, including his cat and the body of his wife. His house was condemned as a health risk for over a week.

The petri dishes contained harmless forms of bacteria, and the scientific equipment was for testing genetically altered food. Many of the other materials had been exhibited in museums around the world. A grand jury refused to indict Kurtz "terrorism" charges, but did indict him on federal criminal mail fraud and wire fraud charges, and he faces 20 years in jail for fraudulently obtaining biological microbes. Many consider these trumped up charges a way to save face for the over-zealous Task Force, or that the charges are politically motivated, due to the fact that the Critical Art Ensemble's work often deals with social criticism.

Today 10zenmonkeys published an interview with Kurtz, who is still awaiting trial, about the film, his practice, the case and the Patriot Act.

Information about the film can be found here:

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