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Announcement :: Education
This Friday at MIT: Building a Critical Public for the Biotech Century: Eight Short Talks on Bioart, Biotech, and Biopolitics
28 Oct 2004
Modified: 05:47:19 PM
This afternoon-long teach-in at MIT's Center for Advanced Visual Studies takes as its point of departure the case of Steve Kurtz, the artist who was investigated by the FBI on suspicions of bioterrorism last May.

We will have several of Kurtz's collaborators in the field of critical biotech art present on their own work and on the case. They will be in dialogue with the Boston-based COUNCIL FOR RESPONSIBLE GENETICS AND ALTERNATIVES FOR COMMUNITY AND ENVIRONMENT, among others. These will be short, informal talks oriented around the task of fostering critical public awareness of the development and uses of biotech under global capitalism at a time of open-ended war.
CAVS at MIT (N52-390) is located on the 3rd floor of 265 Massachusetts Avenue, next to the MIT Museum.

1:00 PM – 6:00 PM

The Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT and 16 Beaver Group invite you to a dialogue that takes the artists’ group Critical Art Ensemble and its recent investigation by the FBI as a point of departure.

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 will be followed by discussion moderated by members of 16 Beaver Group, a collective of artists based in New York.

A resource book will be available at the event with writing by the speakers and foundational documents in their fields. Most of this material, as well as the full schedule, is available at


Last May, Steven Kurtz, an art professor at SUNY Buffalo, became the subject of a federal bioterrorism investigation when equipment and bacteria cultures (both of which were quickly found to be harmless) were discovered in his home laboratory. The equipment was related to a series of participatory art projects Kurtz has conducted with Critical Art Ensemble (CAE) 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.

SPEAKERS (in alphabetical order):

Klare Allen, Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project Co-Director and Community Organizer at Alternatives for Community and Environment and Gene Benson, Staff Attorney at Alternatives for Community and Environment

Sujatha Byravan
Executive Director of the Council for Responsible Genetics

Beatriz da Costa
Long-term collaborator of Critical Art Ensemble

Jonathan King
Professor of Molecular Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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

Nato Thompson
Associate Curator at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and curator of the exhibition "The Interventionists"

Charles Weiner
Professor Emeritus of History of Science, Program in Science, Technology and Society, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Faith Wilding
Multi-disciplinary artist with a focus on issues of women and technology, with particular emphasis on biotechnology


Yates McKee, 16 Beaver Group
Rene Gabri, 16 Beaver Group


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 over 200 events ranging in format from lunches, walks, film screenings, and artist presentations to readings, panels, and discussions.


What is the relation of art and politics? How should artists play a role in
society as activists, catalysts, and critics? As the Steve 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? What should be the status
of biological expertise and biological literacy in a democracy? 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 itself—fighting for what might be called biopolitical justice? Can these multiple voices come together to form a critical public sphere for the biotech century?


CAVS is a center for art and exchange in the School of Architecture and Planning at MIT. To join our mailing list, please write to lrharris (at)

CAVS at MIT (N52-390) is located at 265 Massachusetts Avenue. Take the Red Line to Central Square or #1 Bus to NECCO Factory stop. Enter on Front St, next to the MIT Museum. Take the elevator to the 3rd Floor. For more info, call 617.452.2484 or
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