Monday, November 22, 2004

Critical Art Ensemble

It is suggested that to show support this Holiday season for the Critical Arts Ensemble's efforts that you address a blank post card to a Senator or Representative with an inverted american flag postage stamp licked on both sides. Any additional body fluids are optional. May I suggest a kiss or two from strangers made aware of this plight.

p.s. Be sure to leave only your fingerprints and DNA as a return address.
-m. clarren

Art as Next Terrorist Suspect

Nataša Petrešin

Due to an overall danger of various forms of terrorism, paranoia as a state-of-the-art has developed after 9/11 into an actual reality of the globalised world, the one which is burdened by the past colonial, social and psychological exploitation of the inferior or minor layers of society and by the ever-present cultural and capital hegemony of the First World over the Third World. What is happening before our eyes, which are pinned to the mass media and the World Wide Web, seems like the most tasteless and worst case scenario, yet we all participate in it. The narrow-mindedness of the most powerful states that still decide the fate of most geopolitical situations on our planet includes searching for scapegoats. The search allows them to avoid (and for how long?) all real, effective and realisable solutions, ones that in any case are not in their interests. Dr. Steven Kurtz, the founder of the art collective Critical Art Ensemble and associate professor at the art department of the University of Buffalo, and Dr. Robert Ferrell, Kurtz’s collaborator and professor of genetics at the University in Pittsburgh, charged with mail and wire fraud in a federal court arraignment in Buffalo this spring, are such scapegoats in an absurd and terrifying court process. The trial, which is actually only now beginning, brings forth catastrophic consequences to the freedom of creativity and artistic expression, to unrestrained artistic and interdisciplinary research, and to the right of all individuals and lay audiences to knowledge concerning the biopolitical mechanisms that directly steer the course of bare life.

Critical Art Ensemble (CAE) is an art collective consisting of five activists coming from the fields of computer graphics, performance, photography, film, video and text art. Since the foundation of the collective in 1987, they have been one of the key elements in international theoretic discourse and artistic activist practice, civil disobedience, resistance and the basic right to knowledge. The group has been exploring the kinships between art, science, technology, political activism and critical theory. Their artistic mission involves interventions, introducing the potential of tactical media, capital and power in the information society. Most recently they have revealed the strategies, interests, dangers and manipulations with which hermetically sealed scientific circles and the escalating development of the biotechnological industry are misleading the public. Critical Art Ensemble has defined the role of the artist as one according with the transforming nature of engaged art. They see the artistic position and function as an operation by a public amateur within a system of transparent financial support for the arts and visibility in the public domain. Working as a collective for many years, they have created performative, interactive and participatory projects, advocated the methodology of and necessity for interdisciplinary research and published five books.

In recent years, CAE has unfailingly demystified the strategies of the biotechnological industry in their participatory projects, wherein they develop practical models and situations where the audience can confront its own fear of science: "By interacting with us and our models [where the audience can develop harmless transgenic bacteria, raise bacteria found within their bodies and take them home, or observe the process of identifying genetically modified organisms in the most common food products] they hopefully developed some understanding of the potential risks involved in the positive use of transgenic organisms." Acting out the role of amateur biotechnicians and scientists, the collective's own term for their performative methodology is "contestational biology initiative". This format has allowed them to investigate the methods, equipment and databases of the professional scientific sphere in search for answers to politicised questions about the representation and control of food products that the biotechnological industry has achieved under the supervision of multinational companies. In these projects, analogical to their earlier critical projects about the Internet, tactical media and hacktivism, Critical Art Ensemble have succeeded in establishing their main thesis about the necessity and right of all individuals to information, about "knowledge as a commons which is as vital as the air that we breathe.".

Critical Art Ensemble

Update: Visit the Critical Art Ensemble Defense Fund.

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