Keynote - Steve Kurtz: When Aesthetics is Not Enough / by Jenn E Norton

Art Gallery of Ontario, Jackman Hall
Thursday, May 18th at 7:00 - 8:30pm

We are thrilled to welcome artist, educator, and cultural instigator Steve Kurtz for a keynote talk to launch the Public Art: New Ways of Thinking and Working symposium.

Kurtz is one of the founding members of the internationally acclaimed art and theater group Critical Art Ensemble (CAE), a collective of various specializations—including digital imaging and web design, wetware, film/video, photography, text art, book art, and performance—dedicated to exploring the intersections between art, technology, political activism, and critical theory. On numerous occasions, and over the course of many decades, CAE's work has provoked authorities. By applying art to service critical activism, they are pioneers in the areas interventionist practices, and cultural research and action in the field of biotechnology and ecological struggle.  

For three decades CAE has produced and exhibited art that examines questions surrounding information and communication technologies, biotechnologies, and ecological struggle, interested in resisting and interfering with the more authoritarian aspects of culture and injustice of capitalism.

The collective has performed and produced a wide variety of projects for an international audiences at venues ranging from the street, to the museum, to the internet, and has been invited to exhibit and perform in many of the world’s leading cultural institutions, including The Whitney Museum and the The New Museum in NYC; the Corcoran Museum in Washington D.C.; the ICA, London; the MCA, Chicago and Documenta.

An emeritus professor of art at SUNY Buffalo, and former professor of art at Carnegie Mellon University, Kurtz has also given several lectures in renowned institutions such as MIT, and TED talks:


The story of Kurtz's charges on suspicioun of bioterrorism 2004 is told in the film Strange Culture, 2007, by filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson. It focuses on Kurtz' art, character, and interaction with law enforcement. Kurtz's supporters are convinced that it was an intentional attempt to punish an artist who is critical of the government's authoritarian tendency. Strange Culture premiered at the Sundance International Film Festival in 2007. Kurtz's arrest also served as inspiration for the novel Orfeo by Richard Powers.



CAE has published several publications, including Disturbances, a self-assessment of the group’s 25-year history, examining the environmental, political, and bio-technological themes of their various initiatives; . The Concerns of a Repentant Galtonian, 2012 on the misuse of biologically based analogies and rhetorics over the past century; Mythic Weapons and State Propaganda, 2009  about how the US government uses weapon systems (real, exaggerated, or fantasized) to scare or calm the public; and Nomadic Power and Cultural Resistance, Electronic Civil Disobedience & Other Unpopular Ideas, 1992Their its writings have been translated into eighteen languages, are anti-copywrite, and available for free on their website.

CAE has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2007 Andy Warhol Foundation Wynn Kramarsky Freedom of Artistic Expression Grant, the 2004 John Lansdown Award for Multimedia, and the 2004 Leonardo New Horizons Award for Innovation.

In this lecture, Steve Kurtz will examine the difficulties of producing and deploying art in the public sphere that moves beyond monumentality and/or decoration. In a time of crisis across all the global orders (financial, military, political, and environmental), Kurtz will argue that it is incumbent upon artists to assist in any way they can in the opening of public space, in creating shared platforms of expression, and in creating assemblies (both social and mechanical) through which discourse, debate, and direct action in pursuit of social and environmental justice can emerge.

We do hope you'll join us for Kurt's keynote, presented in conjunction with The Art Gallery of Ontario, which opens the Public Art: New Ways of Thinking and Working Symposium. 

Registration guarantees a place. See the full schedule and register here.

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