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+   Beatriz da Costa, artist and long-term collaborator of Critical Art Ensemble

The Center for Advanced Visual Studies and New York-based artists 16 Beaver Group co-organized a dialogue that took as its point of departure the artist collective Critical Art Ensemble (CAE) and its recent investigation by the FBI.

The program included short presentations on critical bio-art, the social and political role of the museum, the figure of the amateur scientist, the Kurtz case and the Patriot Act, the mission of the Council for Responsible Genetics, the implications of life patents, a short history of political action around biotechnology, and the Boston University Biodefense Lab controversy. These sessions were followed by a discussion moderated by members of 16 Beaver.

In May 2004 Steven Kurtz, an art professor at SUNY Buffalo, became the subject of a federal bioterrorism investigation when laboratory equipment and bacteria cultures were discovered in his home laboratory. The materials (which were quickly found to be harmless) were related to a series of participatory art projects Kurtz has conducted with Critical Art Ensemble concerning the lack of democratic accountability that often characterizes the realm of biotech research and development. Rather than simply aestheticize science, CAE develops tools to promote critical thinking about technology and its representation in everyday life. Their recent project Free Range Grains included a mobile DNA-extraction laboratory for testing food products for the presence of genetically modified organisms.

Big Questions
What is the relation of art and politics? How should artists understand their role as activists, catalysts, and critics? As the Kurtz case unfolds, we ask these perennial questions in relation to others: What are the politics of biotechnology under global capitalism, especially at a time of open-ended war? What are the private and public institutions that govern its development and control its interpretation and use? Is freedom of speech relevant to contemporary science, and is freedom of research relevant to contemporary art? How do critical artists and socially engaged scientists relate to one another, and to the multiple movements around the world—including in Boston—fighting for what might be called biopolitical justice? Can these multiple voices come together to form a critical public sphere for the biotech century?

16 Beaver is the address of a space in New York’s Financial District initiated and run by artists to create and maintain an ongoing platform for the presentation, production, and discussion of a variety of artistic, cultural, economic, and/or political projects. Since its inception, the group has organized more than 200 events ranging in format from lunches, walks, and film screenings to artist presentations, readings, panels, and discussions.

+   Nato Thompson, Curator, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and curator of the exhibition "The Interventionists"

+   Sujatha Byravan, Executive Director, Council for Responsible Genetics

+   Charles Weiner, Professor Emeritus of History of Science, Program in Science, Technology and Society, MIT

+   Jonathan King, Professor of Molecular Biology, MIT

+   Faith Wilding, artist with a focus on issues of women and technology

+   Gene Benson, Staff Attorney, Alternatives for Community and Environment

+   Eugene Thacker, Assistant Professor, School of Literature, Communication, and Culture, Georgia Institute of Technology

+   Rene Gabri, organizer and member of 16 Beaver Group

+   Yates McKee, organizer and member of 16 Beaver Group

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