A Letter in Defense of Steve Kurtz and the Role of the Artist in Society:
As with many in the arts community, particularly those engaged in
acts of artistic mediation, I am shocked and outraged that one of our
own has become a recent victim of oppressive policies coming down
from the Bush administration. I met Steve and Critical Art Ensemble
partner Claire Pentecost a few years ago here in Washington, DC,
during their residency at the Corcoran College of Art.
Steve's commitment to social inquiry, particularly in the area of
bio-technologies, is internationally renowned. Steve is an artist and
scholar of extraordinary depth of knowledge and perspective. Behind
the actions and projects of CAE is a profound understanding of 20th
century avant-garde practice and its impact on contemporary thought.
If in fact it is the role of the artist to shed new light and vision
on the issues that confront us today, Steve is the classic model, the
For Steve Kurtz to now be facing criminal charges, shows the deep
chasm that exists in our society between the artist's role as a
social and political critic, and the society at large. Steve has
shown how the artist-as-citizen might stand up for justice in the
most thoughtful and imaginative way possible.
It is my hope that the case of Steve Kurtz and other CAE
collaborators now under investigation can inspire other artists to
better articulate their vital role in society. Without artistic
freedom, there is no freedom in the world. The artist is constantly
examining, redefining and expanding our notions of freedom. How
hypocritical for the US Government to claim it is bringing freedom
and democracy to oppressive regions of the world, when here at home,
it is condemning one of the great artists of our generation who
speaks out for truth and justice.
In George Orwell's 1984, the motto of Big Brother is:
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
The words resonate all too well in the current social and political
climate. The crisis facing us is much larger than the charges that
may face Steve Kurtz and Critical Art Ensemble. The crisis is that
this madness may soon be staring us all in the face, particularly
those of us fighting for the ideals we thought our nation was all
about. Steve is being victimized by the Patriot Act and the extremist
ideologies behind it. We must not allow this to occur. We must defend
the principles we believe in, and we must defend the role of the
artist as a critical voice to help counter the rising tide of
injustice that has spread since 9-11.
The defense of Steve Kurtz is vital to the defense of the artist,
whose role is to function as a mediator between our strange hostile
world and the human spirit.
June 8, 2004