What Sort of Art? Steve Kurtz and BioArt

Steven Kurtz, an art professor at the State University of New York at Buffola, is one of the current practitioners of BioArt, which uses living matter as an art medium. He gained special media attention by being the focus of a bioterrorism investigation 2004-2008. In May 2004, police responded to an emergency call by Kurtz (his wife had died due to heart failure), and got suspicious about the laboratory equipment in his home. Kurtz used this equipment to prepare a performance (“Free Range Grain“), which allowed participants to test food for the presence of genetically modified organisms. He was temporarily arrested, being suspected for bioterrorism (which nowadays in the US carries prison sentence for up to 20 years). These charges were soon turned into mail and wire fraud charges, because of – in fact harmless – bacteria that University of Pittsburgh geneticist Robert Ferrell had sent to Kurtz. This April, Kurtz was cleared from all charges. (Ferrell was coerced to plead guilty to misdemeanor charges and fined.)

Kurtz is a founding member of the Critical Art Ensemble. Check out their BioArt projects reflecting on modern genetics, biotechnology, and reproduction, such as Flesh Machine, Society for Reproductive Anachronisms, Cult of the New Eve, and GenTerra. Some of Kurtz’s BioArt work touches upon war and military research: project Marching Plague involved throwing benign bacteria at guinea pigs, referencing a British military experiment. The recent installation Immolation shows the effects of incendiary weapons on human skin samples.

There is also a recent interview with Kurtz on the bioterrorism investigation. And here we see him conducting a subversive and dangerous art performance:

 

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2 thoughts on “What Sort of Art? Steve Kurtz and BioArt

  1. Pingback: What’s hot at What Sorts? « What Sorts of People

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