Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Strange Culture

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Oct 1, 2007

MoMA

A frightening and riveting hybrid documentary, Strange Culture confronts the government’s inordinate and insensitive reaction to one artist in the practice of his work. In 2004, Steven Kurtz, a founding member of Critical Art Ensemble, a collective dedicated to the advancement of social justice through cultural activities, was working with his wife, Hope, on a piece about genetic food engineering for a MassMoCA exhibition. When Hope died suddenly of heart failure, Kurtz called 911. Police arrived, became suspicious of the Kurtzes’ art, and called the FBI. The artist was detained as a suspected “bioterrorist” while federal agents in Hazmat suits sifted through his work and impounded his computers, manuscripts, books, cat, and even his wife’s body. Despite the fact that the materials in question were harmless bacteria, the government is still pursuing a trial. Since the ongoing nature of the case prevents Kurtz from discussing its details, Lynn Hershman Leeson has employed actors to dramatize parts of the story. One of America’s best known and most prolific media artists, Hershman Leeson deftly interweaves news footage, reenactments, animation, interviews, and footage of Kurtz himself in this stranger-than-fiction narrative of the law gone wild.

Organized by Laurence Kardish, Senior Curator, Department of Film.

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