Friday, May 28, 2004

Enclosure News Story

Received over the Net this morning ...

"FBI Abducts Artist, Seizes Art:
Feds Unable to Distinguish Art from Bioterrorism,
Grieving Artist Denied Access to Deceased Wife's Body"

Critical Art Ensemble (CAE) collective member 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 CAEdefense

Fear Run Amok

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 equipment.

"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.

Heklp urgently Needed

A small fortune has already been spent on lawyers for Kurtz and other Critical Art Ensemble members. A defense fund has been established at 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 CAEdefense For more information on the Critical Art Ensemble, please visit

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

Dozens of law enforcement officials made their way into 60 College Street. Hazmat, firefighters, FBI and detectives were all on the scene, and neighbors could not get to their homes.

Allentown resident Joe Maniaci tells 7 News, "It's just pretty bizarre that its happening my upstairs neighbor is in his house and can't leave ."

It all started when Buffalo Police were called to the residence two days ago. Commissioner Rocco Diina said, "Our officers were investigating a death and they made some observations to the joint terrorism task force."

While police say the Tuesday death was from natural causes, another investigation began. FBI officials say Buffalo police thought the materials found in the basement may be hazardous. So it was all hands on deck at the home of Steven Kurtz, an art professor at the University of Buffalo. Neighbors say they believe his basement may be an art studio.

" The owner of the residence indicates that he uses it as part of his performances...providing us information." FBI officials say they are trying to determine what is in there. At this point they say they do not know.

FBI Agent Paul Moskal tells reporter Julie Fine, "We are erring on the side of caution. "

Hazmat crews returned to the scene on Friday to continue their work.

What kind of art were the materials being used for?

"What they're exploring is the intersection of art and technology, including genetic technologies and biochemistry and all of the technologies that we hear about today, artists are interested in that too. So, they're doing work that's very interdisciplinary," said Edmund Cardoni, from Hallwells Contemporary Art Gallery.

Steven Kurtz is involved in something called the critical art ensemble.

The ensemble is a group of collaborating artists interested in hot topic issues, such as bio technology, dna, and politics. Those are all topics they incorporate in their work. Ed Cardoni is the executive director of Hallwells Contempoary Art Gallery here in Buffalo. He says this type of artwork is really cutting edge.

"It's really pushing the boundaries of what art does, but it's also dealing as its subject matter with very current scientific investigations too. They're very serious about that, about learning about it and doing a lot of research that gets incorporated into their artwork," said Cardoni.

Ed Cardoni says he expects the local art community to rally behind Steven Kurtz. He says using scientific equipment in art is completely normal. Authorities have not charged Steven Kurtz with any crime. A lot of people in the art community also think Steven Kurtz is wrongfully being targeted, especially at a time when he's grieving the death of his wife.

Authorities have not charged Steven Kurtz with any crime. Stay tuned to 7 News will for more on the type of cutting edge art he's involved in at 5 and 6 p.m.