Critical Art Ensemble, Marching Plague, 2006. Photo: The Arts Catalyst

The film Marching Plague is Critical Art Ensemble’s newest work and a powerful critique of UK-US bio-weapons research. During the Cold War, Britain secretly undertook biological warfare trials, releasing biological agents, including bubonic plague, at sea off the coast of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides and testing the effects of the agents on caged animals. The idea was that germ warfare could be used as a naval weapon for ship-to-ship combat. For New York-based Critical Art Ensemble, it is where the theatre of the absurd collides with absolute reality.

For Marching Plague, Critical Art Ensemble recreated one of the experiments, with the same harmless bacterial simulant that was used to test dispersal. As Steve Kurtz states: “Just like the navy back in 1952, we didn’t manage to hit the target but did get ourselves covered with the simulant,” he says. “The only thing we successfully did was to poison ourselves. Theoretically.” Marching Plague addresses fundamental political and ethical issues surrounding bio-weapons research and also aims to dispel fear of the massively exaggerated threat of bioterrorism. 

The screening was followed by a panel discussion, featuring Steve Kurtz and Steve Barnes of Critical Art Ensemble.

Critical Art Ensemble is a collective of five tactical media practitioners of various specialisations including computer graphics, web design, film/video, photography, text art, book art, and performance. Formed in 1987, their focus has been on the exploration of the intersections between art, critical theory, technology, and political activism. The collective has performed and produced projects for an international audience, and has written three books: The Electronic Disturbance, and its companion text, Electronic Civil Disobedience and Other Unpopular Ideas, and Flesh Machine: Cyborgs, Designer Babies, and New Eugenic Consciousness.

Commissioned and produced by The Arts Catalyst. Supported by Arts Council England. World Premiere.

Critical Art Ensemble: Marching Plague


Sat 4 March 2006, 6.45pm

Tyneside Cinema

10 Pilgrim Street
Newcastle NE1 6QG