Strange Culture: WMDs Found in Artist’s Attic

If art can be made of piss, poop, and blood, why not DNA? At least that was the impulse of Buffalo artist/professor Steve Kurtz back in 2004, when he bought some benign bacterium over the Internet for a show intended to critique genetically modified foodstuffs. Before he could complete his project, however, his wife died in her sleep of a heart attack. The cops called the feds when they discovered Kurtz's home laboratory, and soon he was arrested, interrogated, and held without a warrant. (To date, his federal case is still pending; the bioterror charges having been reduced to wire fraud for the bacterium purchase.) Kurtz and his ordeal have already been well documented in the press, and director Lynn Hershman Leeson relies heavily on prior reporting (including Keith Olbermann on MSNBC). She also borrows extensively—with hardly any attribution—from a comic by Timothy Stock and Warren Heise in the anthology Suspect. What's new here? Not very much. Hershman Leeson deploys art-crit mumbo jumbo like "biological discourse," doubles the documentary subjects with actors (chiefly Thomas J. Ryan and Tilda Swinton), and even frames them in mirrors. Self-reflexive! Kurtz himself, friends, and supporters take the usual shots at Bush and the Patriot Act, but their complaints—like the whole of Hershman Leeson's stale enterprise—feel locked inside a petri dish.

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