The exhibition SEIZED deals with the FBI raid on the home of CAE member and art professor Steve Kurtz in Spring 2004 and the four year law case that followed. In May 2004 Steve’s wife Hope died entirely unexpectedly because of an undiagnosed heart defect. Emergency responders from the Fire Department who answered Kurtz’s call saw a chemistry laboratory, which was part of preparations for an upcoming show, in the couple’s house. The Fire Department found this suspicious and informed the FBI. During the three-day-raid the authorities not only confiscated Kurtz’s computers, archives, artworks and a set of books he was using for research on his upcoming book project, but also his wife’s corpse. Steve himself was interrogated for 22 hours with the aim of charging him with “bioterrorism” and even murder. Later the charges were changed to “wire and mail fraud”, which finally, in 2008, was dropped due to all evidence of a crime being "insufficient on its face." In their installation Body of Evidence (included in the exhibition Seized) the artists turn the perpetrator-victim relationship upside-down. As the FBI had stolen their artistic material, they, in return, confiscated the debris left behind on Steve Kurtz’s lawn by the FBI agents - pizza boxes, Gatorade bottles, hazmat suits and biological sample bags, as well as written notes and a single cigar butt.
The display of the notes and papers which the federal agents wrote during their raid resembles a strategy of counter-appropriation in which CAE and IAA convert those objects left behind as “evidence” for their own investigation. All in all, this turns the ‘case’ inside out and subverts the power structure. The items confiscated are exchanged for items left behind, which in turn form the basis for the exhibition. In a strange act of reciprocity, the artists are able to invert the whole investigator/perpetrator system. The blank space created by the seizure of CAE’s artworks is filled by the debris of the state; and with this the absence of the seized objects is made more tangible.
Besides the complex installation Body of Evidence the exhibition Seized documents works and performances by CAE, on which Steve and Hope were working just before the raid, such as Free Range Grain (2003-2004) or Molecular Invasion (2002-2003), that were confiscated from their home by the FBI together with various other household objects.
The project as an art exhibition it brings up questions about artistic freedom of expression and governmental repression, reflects about the interdependancy between politics and business and presents artistic strategies, which try to undercut this. America, country of freedom, was the setting for the events which underlie this exhibition. It shows that it is not self-evident for artists, even in a democracy, to criticize the structures of power and to publicly take a firm stand.
Critical Art Ensemble (CAE) is a collective of five tactical media practitioners of various specializations including computer graphics and web design, film/video, photography, text art, book art, and performance.
Formed in 1987, CAE’s focus has been on the exploration of the intersections between art, critical theory, technology, and political activism. The group has exhibited and performed at diverse venues internationally such as the Whitney Museum and The New Museum in NYC; The ICA, London; Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt and Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.
The collective has written 6 books, and its writings have been translated into 18 languages.
The Institute for Applied Autonomy (IAA) was founded in 1998 as an anonymous collective of engineers, designers, artists and activists united by the cause of individual and collective self-determination. Toward this end, the IAA has produced numerous projects under its flagship initiative, Contestational Robotics. The IAA has won numerous awards including the 2000 Prix Ars Electronica Award of Distinction and several Prix Ars Electronica Honorable Mentions; and a Rhizome New Media Fellowship.