20 January 2008

Local Events: Steve Kurtz Lecture & Screening of Strange Culture

University of Rochester, Humanities Project ~ Two Evenings of Events Concerning Civil Liberties & Artistic Freedom "Post-9/11"

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Dr. Steven Kurtz
"Crossing the Line: Interdisciplinary Work in a Society of Fear"
Graduate Student Speakers Series Inaugural Lecture.
Program in Visual & Cultural Studies
5:00 p.m., Hawkins-Carlson Room, Rush Rhees Library, University of Rochester.

Dr. Steven Kurtz, founder of the internationally exhibited art and theater group Critical Art Ensemble (CAE), will explore factors that severely impede critical interventions in and between the fields of art, science, and politics. Using the work of Critical Art Ensemble as a grounding focus, he will examine issues such as the privatization of knowledge and the militarization of scientific and medical institutions, and will show that if these issues are used as framing devices for cultural interventionist projects, they beckon a broad variety of disciplinary agencies. Over the past two decades, CAE has encountered nearly all of them. Police, FBI, Department of Justice prosecutors, corporate lawyers, politicians, church officials, and government bureaucrats have attacked, threatened, or denounced CAE for acting against the authoritarian tendencies of Western societies. This lecture chronicles the reasons why CAE's work has elicited such responses, and how the violence against cultural resistance has escalated and intensified over the past five years.

CAE were awarded the 2007 Andy Warhol Foundation Wynn Kramarsky Freedom of Artistic Expression Prize in recognition of their 20 years of artistic practice.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Rochester Premiere Screening: Strange Culture
A Discussion with Professor Steven Kurtz will follow the Screening.
8:00 p.m., Dryden Theatre at George Eastman House,
900 East Ave, Rochester, NY 14607.

Strange Culture is directed by Lynn Hershman Leeson, and features Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton, Chronicles of Narnia), Peter Coyote (E.T., Erin Brochovich), Thomas Jay Ryan (Henry Fool, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), and Wallace Shawn (The Princess Bride, My Dinner with Andre); Original score by The Residents.

The film chronicles Dr. Kurtz's surreal prosecution by the U.S. Department of Justice. In May 2004 Kurtz and his wife Hope were preparing an art exhibit examining GM agriculture for the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art when Hope died of heart failure. Police who responded to Kurtz's distressed 911 call became suspicious of biological equipment used in the couple's internationally exhibited art practice, and notified the FBI. Within hours the artist found himself detained as a suspected "bioterrorist," as dozens of federal agents in Hazmat suits raided his home, seizing art materials, computers, books, manuscripts, his cat, and even his wife's body. Nearly four years later, Kurtz awaits a trial date on charges of "mail fraud" - charges which carry the possibility of a 20-year jail sentence under the PATRIOT Act. Since the ongoing nature of the case prevents Kurtz from discussing its details, Hershman Leeson has enlisted actors to dramatize parts of the story, skillfully interweaving dialogue with news footage, animation, interviews, testimonials, and footage of Kurtz himself.

Strange Culture, was selected to open both the 2007 Human Rights Watch International Film Festival and the documentary section of the Berlin International Film Festival after its premiere at Sundance. The film is the recipient of the 2007 San Francisco Film Critics Circle Marlon Riggs Prize, honoring "courage and innovation" in film making.

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I have posted on Strange Culture a couple of times [1] [2]; I am happy the film is coming to Rochester. I will be introducing Steve Kurtz on Thursday afternoon. You can link to the CAE defense fund here or through the icon on the side bar. The mis-prosecution of Steve Kurtz is a prime example of how over-reaching executive powers are a threat to the 'rights' we allegedly are fighting the 'war on terror' to protect.

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