Biotech, Arts and Civic Knowledge – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Biotech, Arts and Civic Knowledge

Steven Kurtz, chair of the department of visual studies of the University at Buffalo and cofounder of the award-winning art and theater group Critical Art Ensemble (CAE), will present “Biotechnology, the Arts and Civic Knowledge” on Monday, Oct. 21. The event is presented by the Fisher Center for the Study of Women and Men and the media and society department.

Over the past decade, cultural institutions worldwide have hosted CAE’s participatory theater projects that help the general public understand biotechnology and the many issues surrounding it.

Kurtz will discuss the complexities surrounding the realms of biotechnology today: why has it become so difficult to acquire knowledge about substances that we put into our very own bodies, or to which our bodies are exposed? What are some of the factors that have enabled all registers of biotic life (ecological, microbial, and human and animal) to become the basis for capital production? What does ‘biosecurity’ mean in a world after 9/11, and who bears the costs of achieving ‘security’ in a culture of fear? How has the militarization and privatization of scientific institutions fostered or deepened structural injustices leading to societies marked by greater inequalities?

These are but some of the questions raised by CAE’s recent artworks on biotechnology and civic knowledge, such as “Free-Range Grain,” a work that lets audiences test whether foods labeled “organic” have been genetically modified. Or “Gen Terra” is a piece that highlights tensions at play between the for-profit ventures and ethical considerations in transgenics. “Marching Plague” is a work that illuminates the economic, national and technological ideologies that undergird germ warfare.

Using CAE’s works as a frame, Kurtz’s talk will explore some of these topics, while also discussing why critical interventions into issues surrounding the biotechnological landscape today so often incite resistance and discipline by legal, government and corporate bodies.

CAE has exhibited and performed at diverse venues internationally, including the Whitney Museum and The New Museum in New York City; The Corcoran Museum in Washington, D.C.; The ICA in London; The MCA in Chicago; Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; and The London Museum of Natural History.

Kurtz holds a Ph.D. in interdisciplinary humanities and joined the art department at the University of Buffalo in 2002. Prior to joining UB, he was an associate professor of art at Carnegie Mellon University.

The event is co-sponsored by the art and architecture, environmental studies, political science, and public policy departments and the office of the provost. It takes place in the Vandervort Room at 7:15 p.m.

Each semester, the Fisher Center looks to bring together the HWS community through its academic conversations to cultivate understanding and social justice in contemporary society.

On Wednesday, Nov. 6, the Fisher Center will host Visual Artist Andrea Dezsö for “Lessons From My Mother: How to Prevent a Female Cold, Catch a Husband and Avoid a Frog Growing in Your Stomach.”

Jasbir Puar, associate professor of women’s and gender studies at Rutgers University, will then present “A Body with New Organs: Becoming Trans, Becoming Disabled” on Wednesday, Nov. 13.

Both November discussions will take place in the Geneva Room of the Warren Hunting Smith Library at 7:30 p.m.

More information is available online.