Helsinki / Amsterdam, June 4, 2004
We are sure that many of you have been following the deeply worrying events
around the subpoenas that have been served to members of the US-based arts
collective Critical Art Ensemble.
If you have not heard so much about the case background information is at
We, Eric Kluitenberg and Amanda McDonald Crowley (with support from a range
of colleagues), have taken the initiative to write an open letter of protest
asking for an immediate cessation of legal proceedings against our esteemed
and distinguished colleagues. We think that this case signals a most
worrisome trend in public political life in the United States and cannot be
We ask all of you who have worked with the Critical Art Ensemble in recent
years, and others who feel offended by this unacceptable infringement on
artistic freedom, to contact us to sign this letter of protest as members of
a deeply concerned professional community.
Please find the letter below. if you wish to sign send either one of us an
e-mail (don't reply to this list) stating your name, your profession, your
institutional affiliation (if you have one) and possibly a url that best
represents your work or professional activity.
Amanda McDonald Crowley
To whom it may concern,
We, the undersigned artists, curators, critics, cultural producers,
theorists and writers who have worked with or followed the work of the
collective known as Critical Art Ensemble, are writing to express our
serious concern over legal proceedings brought against members of this
highly respected artists group.
Critical Art Ensemble (CAE) is a collective of internationally recognised
artists who work within pedagogic frameworks and art contexts to raise
awareness of a range of social issues. Most recently their work has been
directed towards providing the general public with awareness and
understanding of issues to do with biological research. Their work is not
alarmist but rather provides knowledge.
CAE's work is always undertaken in a safe and considered way, using
materials which are commonly available in scientific education and research
practices. Their main motivation is to provide the public with the tools
needed to make informed choices.
It has come to our attention that there was a recent seizure of a
substantial amount of the artists' work and research material. The
international art scene was shocked and surprised to learn that the US
Federal Bureau of Investigation, following an analysis of the materials by
the Commissioner of Public Health for New York State which returned the
result that the material seized posed no public safety risk, have continued
with their investigation and are now seeking to charge members of the
collective under the US Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act as expanded by
the USA Patriot Act.
Whilst it is perhaps understandable in the current international political
climate that such research might raise alarm bells with American
authorities, it would have also been clear, upon investigation, that the
aims of CAE are not a terrorist act, but an awareness raising action
undertaken with cultural, artistic and educational agendas. Indeed CAE's
work is quite in keeping with mainstream art practices, which have,
throughout history, had pedagogical aims.
Having worked with CAE in various settings throughout the world we have
found CAE's approach has always been to understand and to know the topic
that they are presenting. It comes as no surprise, given the current focus
of their work, that the research tools included biological material.
However, those of us in the art world who have worked with this artists'
group also know that their work is undertaken with thorough research, in
continuous consultation with members of the scientific community, in order
to ensure that the artworks they produce are safe, but also real, in terms
of the investigations they pursue. The work of CAE is internationally
recognised as thorough, investigative, educative and safe.
This matter is one that raises serious concerns internationally that the
actions of the American government undermine the freedom of artistic
expression, a fundamental democratic right, which is one of the cornerstones
of the liberal democracies.
As the materials have been tested and been shown to pose no public health
threat, we demand that the American Government immediately cease legal
action against members of the Critical Art Ensemble collective.
The good reputation of Critical Art Ensemble must be immediately restored.
Amanda McDonald Crowley,
cultural worker/ curator, currently executive producer ISEA2004
(International Symposium of Electronic Art 2004),
Head of the Media Program
De Balie - Centre for Culture and Politics
Amsterdam, The Netherlands