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Video projected on burnt archival reproductions; blank white books; microphone on plinth; interaction programmed in Isadora

(mis)read at the Illingworth Kerr Gallery, Calgary, Canada

Garrett Baumgartner
Shiori Saito


(mis)read is an interactive, documentary installation by Kurtis Lesick exploring the forceful appropriation of social and moral discourse in Germany in 1933 and in the U.S. in the early 2000s. The piece was commissioned for the exhibition PopSex! at the Illingworth Kerr Gallery in Calgary, Canada, curated by Annette Timm and Michael Thomas Taylor.

On May 10th, 1933 Berlin’s Opernplatz erupted with the embers of over 25,000 ‘un-German’ books blistering on a bonfire. Libraries across the country had been plundered to weed out the cancers of social debauchery. “No to decadence and moral corruption!” cried Joseph Goebbels. “Yes to decency and morality in family and state! The writings and sexual research of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, the director of the institute of sexual research became preferred fuel for the fire. Ubiquitous at the rally was a bust of Hirschfeld held to witness the moral cleansing before the sculpture, itself, was cast into the flames.


Long regarded as an act of censorship, the torchlight parades were something far more insidious. This one simple act not only drove those regarded as sexually different back underground, but it reinforced the criminalization of sexual expression, individual liberty, and in one sweeping move, turned the power of the social whole to determine social and moral codes over to the Nazi Party. While only a minority was overtly liminalised, every single citizen lost the right to contribute to both a sexual and moral discourse.


Fast-forward to September 4th, 2002. Napster announces its bankruptcy after a copyright infringement lawsuit by the Recording Industry Association of America. The RIAA begins a campaign against individuals for illegal downloads. Over 20,000 citizens are made criminals. No longer focusing on sexual expression, the power-play for who controls and profits from the determination of social morality is hauntingly familiar. Corporate America becomes the new dictator of cultural values to the intimidated masses.

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