On May 11, 2004, Steve Kurtz – an art professor in Buffalo, N.Y., – awoke to find his wife, Hope, dead of what was later determined to be a heart attack. After arriving at his home, a paramedic noticed lab equipment and “petri dish artworks,” and reported what he deemed to be suspicious activity to law officials. Kurtz was, in fact, a member of the Critical Art Ensemble – a collective of protest and performance artists – and the equipment was used to create his artistic works protesting products of biotechnology, such as genetically modified food. In the midst of dealing with the death of his wife of 20 years, Kurtz found himself at the centre of a Patriot Act bio-terrorism investigation, in which he was detained for questioning; friends were interrogated; and his lab equipment and computers were confiscated. (Eventually, he was arraigned not on any bio-terror charges – but on wire and mail fraud.)
Kurtz’s story is retold in a graphic-novel format with text by Timothy Stock, a PhD student and philosophy lecturer at the University of Toronto, and graphics by illustrator Warren Heise, in the latest issue of Alphabet City. The ideas-oriented periodical, edited by John Knechtel (BA 1987 UC), explores the politics of suspicion in a post-9/11 world through a collection of photography, essays, film stills and fiction. In his introduction to the issue, Knechtel asks: “How does one forgive for being made to fear? What is the appropriate response to the suspect? Can anyone feel secure after terror?” The questions surrounding suspicion are examined in an essay from U of T philosophy professor Mark Kingwell (BA 1985 St. Mike’s), fiction from Jack McClelland writer-in-residence Camilla Gibb (BA 1991 UC), and photography by alumna Rita Leistner (BA 1988 Woods, MA 1990) and others works – raising new responses to the intertwined world of those doing the suspecting and those being suspected.