My body, my choice, my art project?

A college student repeatedly impregnated herself, induced -- and filmed -- miscarriages and used the resulting blood (and footage) as materials in her senior art project.

By Catherine Price

Published April 17, 2008 6:32PM (EDT)

Update: A release from Yale's Office of Public Affairs says that Aliza Shvarts has told Yale officials that she did not actually impregnate herself with sperm donors' semen and then induce miscarriages for an art project. Rather, she was doing "performance art" -- and issued a press release that was picked up by the YDN as a news story. According to the Office of Public Affairs, Shvarts is trying to create "a creative fiction designed to draw attention to the ambiguity surrounding form and function of a woman’s body." (Any thoughts on what that means in the context of pretending to induce miscarriages?) The public affairs office says "Had these acts been real, they would have violated basic ethical standards and raised serious mental and physical health concerns." True enough, but even as fakes, they're still pretty dumb. -- CP

Sometimes it seems like there are two kinds of people in this world: Those who understand art students, and those who don't. I usually fall in the latter camp, and today is no exception. Here's an example of why, as quoted from the Yale Daily News:

"Art major Aliza Shvarts '08 wants to make a statement.

"Beginning next Tuesday, Shvarts will be displaying her senior art project, a documentation of a nine-month process during which she artificially inseminated herself 'as often as possible' while periodically taking abortifacient drugs to induce miscarriages. Her exhibition will feature video recordings of these forced miscarriages as well as preserved collections of the blood from the process."

Shvarts plans to display her project by hanging a large cube from the ceiling, around which she'll wrap hundreds of feet of plastic sheeting with the blood from her miscarriages (mixed with Vaseline to prevent it from drying!) lined between the layers. Then she'll project videos of herself in the bathroom having miscarriages onto the cube and the room's walls.

My thoughts:

1. That is gross.

2. Like, really, really gross.

3. Why are art students so obsessed with bodily excretions? I took a photography class once with a woman who was collecting all of her bodily fluids -- spit, tears, snot, menstrual blood, urine, etc. -- in small vials in order to ... well, actually, I'm not really sure why she was doing it. Which brings me to my next point.

4. Why? Why would you do this? The YDN offers this explanation: "The goal in creating the art exhibition, Shvarts said, was to spark conversation and debate on the relationship between art and the human body" -- which sounds like a fine enough idea until you try to relate it to her project. It's like one of those placards you see in art museums telling you that the artist is using light reflected off the canvas to contemplate the relationship between your mother and the Spanish-American War -- sounds kind of nice, but doesn't make sense.

The question it really seems likely to prompt is where the line lies between fighting for the right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy (i.e., the goal of the pro-choice movement) and abusing that right. (My hunch is that the line might currently be lurking somewhere around Yale's art department.) That's a legitimate question and I encourage people to share their thoughts -- but it doesn't seem to be what Shvarts is getting at.

5. Lastly, a question for Shvarts' advisors: Which part of dangling moist sheets of greasy blood from the ceiling of a public exhibition hall sounds like a good idea, public health-wise? Perhaps the work should be retitled "Hazardous Waste."

Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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