Critical Art Ensemble & Institute for Applied Autonomy


From 13 to 29 June 2012

Solo exhibition

Artist’s presentation and exhibition opening:
WED, 13 June 2012 at 8 pm

Screening of the movie Strange Culture
by Lynn Hershmann Leeson

WED, 27 June 2012 at 9 pm

True Crime
Open Call for Submissions
lasting for the entire duration of the show Seized

Free entrance

Aksioma Project Space
Komenskega 18, Ljubljana, Slovenia

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.

Production: Aksioma – Institute for Contemporary Art, Ljubljana, 2012

Artistic Director: Janez Janša
Executive Producer: Marcela Okretič
Assistant Production: Sonja Grdina
Public Relations: Mojca Zupanič
Technical Supervisor: Valter Udovičić

The programme of Aksioma Institute is supported by the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport of the Republic of Slovenia and the Municipality of Ljubljana

Sponsor: Datacenter d.o.o.


Aksioma - Institute for Contemporary Art, Ljubljana


  • Catalogue

    SEIZED. Critical Art Ensemble & Institute for Applied Autonomy. Berlin 2009

    Regine Rapp und Christian de Lutz für Art Laboratory Berlin (Hrsg.):
    44 p., color, text in English and German
    ISBN: 978-3-9813234-0-5

    Available at:
    Aksioma | Project Space
    and at
    Art Laboratory Berlin

  • True Crime — Open Call for Submissions

    Chances are you’ve committed an illegal act at some point in your life. Here’s your opportunity to make an anonymous confession in the name of art. True Crime is a locally produced representation of everyday life criminality conceived by Critical Art Ensemble. Anyone can contribute to our exhibition Seized by becoming part of our True Crime installation.

    Click HERE to read the full instructions CAE gave us for facilitating True Crime.

Strange Culture

Strange Culture documents the surreal nightmare of internationally-acclaimed artist and professor Steve Kurtz which began when his wife Hope died in her sleep of heart failure. Police who responded to Kurtz’s 911 call deemed Kurtz’s art suspicious and called the FBI. Within hours the artist was detained as a suspected "bioterrorist" as dozens of federal agents in Hazmat suits sifted through his work and impounded his computers, manuscripts, books, his cat, and even his wife’s body.

The film premiered January 19, 2007 at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival was also shown in the 2007 Berlin Film Festival.

Directed by Lynn Hershman Leeson
Starring Tilda Swinton, Thomas Jay Ryan, Peter Coyote, Josh Kornbluth
Music by The Residents
Running time 75 min.
Language English

Lynn Hershmann Leeson is a filmmaker and new media artist who has been awarded the Siemens-Medienkunstpreis award from the ZKM, Karlsruhe, as well as the Golden Nica Prize at the 1999 Ars Electronica.