Artist as Prisoner

Ed Bobb punched a few keys and went to jail. Where's the justice?

As Xeno's primary caregiver, Bobb was devoted and energetic in engaging his son, according to acquaintances. The two went on field trips, devised inventive games, and worked on art projects together, including several videos -- an ironic fact given what Bobb would be accused of years later. "He did a heroic job [with his son]," Gottlieb Roberts says.

About to go onstage at a sold-out club in Tokyo's Shibuya district, Bobb and Otto Von Schirach looked to each other for last-minute inspiration. As hundreds sat patiently on the concrete floor, waiting for the performance to begin, Schirach, then age 24, asked Bobb how he should warm up the crowd.

Noma Bliss
Noma Bliss

"Get on the mike and talk like Satan," Bobb shot back.

Schirach was momentarily stunned but took the command for what it was -- another cryptic piece of a puzzle. Bobb was ready to delve into new worlds and bring along the audience -- willing or not. "Everyone said, guard the mixer -- it's going to get brutal," Schirach recalls. "The sound man was scared."

That was 2001. Around the same time, Bobb began experimenting with the work that would ultimately land him in court. After watching a 60 Minutes program about a halfway house for abused girls, he began thinking about a project that might explore the unspeakable act of incest. He had been reading Freud's Totem and Taboo, and began to imagine an art piece combining the two concepts.

He would examine the subtle, commonplace exploitation of child sexuality -- stick-thin, pubescent-looking underwear models and teenage sex symbols. He would also delve into the shadowy underworld of child pornography. It began with a few Google searches and led to the download of 3500 sexually explicit images, including 50 movie files, onto his home computer.

Unbeknownst to him, Bobb was being watched. In June 2005 the FBI in Oklahoma received information that the Website for the Great Plains Child Resource and Referral Center, a child-care advocacy group, had been hacked. Someone had set up a portal to a massive cache of child pornography. Although investigators couldn't determine who posted the images, they traced thousands of downloads from the site to apartment 801 in the Olympia Building on Flagler Street and Second Avenue.

This past August 4, FBI agents entered the converted Twenties-era office building, which also houses the Olympia Theater. They knocked on the yellowish-white door of the eighth-floor apartment and presented the startled tenant with a search warrant. The agents seized two Apple PowerBook laptops, two external hard drives, and a CPU tower. They returned three weeks later to arrest the tenant: Edward Bobb.

He had no criminal record at the time and had never been sued, according to county court records and a background search through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. None of the sixteen friends and acquaintances of Bobb's questioned for this story ever suspected him of molesting or behaving improperly around a child.

Bobb was released within hours on a $150,000 bond. His parents put up their house as collateral. The artist surrendered his passport and was forbidden access to computers and cell phones. He agreed to undergo counseling and avoid all contact with minors, including his fianc'e's teenage daughter, Elissa, who considers Bobb her second father.

Soon after his arrest, Bobb hired attorneys Jonathan Schwartz and Brittney Horstman. Schwartz is a world traveler and Kabbalah acolyte, a fast-talking foil to the younger and more easygoing Horstman.

Because a 2006 federal law makes all viewing of child pornography illegal, except by a trial jury or under a federal agent's supervision, Horstman had to drive to an FBI office in North Miami to view the downloads from Bobb's computer. She sat in front of a monitor in a cubicle for three or four hours a day over several days. An agent working nearby kept tabs on Horstman's visits and escorted her on bathroom trips.

There were images of prepubescent children being pinned down and penetrated, along with happy-looking photographs of kids playing at the beach. There were nude portraits and images of oral sex with a six-month-old infant. In one photo series, a four-year-old was forced to perform oral sex on a man. "I had never seen anything close to it," Horstman says. "When someone says child pornography, I guess I had a picture [in my mind], but I didn't really know."

The images would have become something completely different in the Totem and Taboo project, according to Bobb. He is adamant that no image would have been recognizable as child pornography. (In fact government prosecutors acknowledged during the trial that investigators found on Bobb's computers altered images of child pornography fitting the artist's description of "video painting.") Bobb says he had envisioned multiple channels of video on twelve monitors. There would be strobe lighting and audio from the 60 Minutes show that featured one girl describing how her stepbrothers had tried to rape her. The audio would trigger melodic tones, making something horrific vaguely pleasant.

One monitor would feature speeding images -- child porn altered, faded, turned, and layered so as to be unidentifiable -- while two other monitors would flash file names. "This became a journey into the abyss," he says. "To me, this was documentation. These are just images that are there. I didn't think about repercussions. It's confusing to me that art and freedom of expression is not a defense, or that any particular defense is not a defense."

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Miami Concert Tickets