Abortion As Art

I’m still not sure what I think about this, but I’m impressed at how visceral my initial reaction was.

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.

The goal in creating the art exhibition, Shvarts said, was to spark conversation and debate on the relationship between art and the human body.

She is a senior at Yale.

“I believe strongly that art should be a medium for politics and ideologies, not just a commodity,” Shvarts said. “I think that I’m creating a project that lives up to the standard of what art is supposed to be.”

The display of Schvarts’ project will feature a large cube suspended from the ceiling of a room in the gallery of Green Hall. Schvarts will wrap hundreds of feet of plastic sheeting around this cube; lined between layers of the sheeting will be the blood from Schvarts’ self-induced miscarriages mixed with Vaseline in order to prevent the blood from drying and to extend the blood throughout the plastic sheeting.

Schvarts will then project recorded videos onto the four sides of the cube. These videos, captured on a VHS camcorder, will show her experiencing miscarriages in her bathrooom tub, she said. Similar videos will be projected onto the walls of the room

On some basic level, I’m as impressed as I am disgusted. See, I don’t know that it will communicate what she has in mind, but damn will it get a reaction. I don’t think art is necessarily about getting a reaction, but pushing boundaries will do that. Our limitations, by and large, are artificial, and we can learn a lot by challenging them and moving beyond them; art is one of our most effective means to do that. (Of course, some boundaries and limitations are more important or useful to challenge than others…)


Okay, so it’s not real.

Statement by Helaine S. Klasky — Yale University, Spokesperson

New Haven, Conn. — April 17, 2008

Ms. Shvarts is engaged in performance art. Her art project includes visual representations, a press release and other narrative materials. She stated to three senior Yale University officials today, including two deans, that she did not impregnate herself and that she did not induce any miscarriages. The entire project is an art piece, a creative fiction designed to draw attention to the ambiguity surrounding form and function of a woman’s body.

She is an artist and has the right to express herself through performance art.

Had these acts been real, they would have violated basic ethical standards and raised serious mental and physical health concerns

Shoulda looked into it more before posting. Meh. Teh interweb giveth and teh interweb taketh away.

12 Responses to “Abortion As Art”

  1.   tatjna
    April 21st, 2008 | 1:55 pm

    I’m impressed by her dedication to getting her message across. That’s a lot to put yourself through in the name of art.

    However, if her message is to about starting debate on the relationship between art and the human body, I think she may have missed the mark. I’d say it’s more likely to start debate on abortion and the rights and wrongs, and there’ll likely be some outcry about repeated abortions and the display of the results, that’s somewhat akin to ‘Madonna In A Condom’ cubed.

    I’ve always thought that art has to cause some sort of emotional response in the viewer, and she’s certainly achieved that.

    But my mind keeps coming back to “What is the message?”

    (i’m not sure vaseline will preserve the blood enough to prevent it stinking)

  2.   morgue
    April 21st, 2008 | 3:04 pm

    Note that she has no intention of actually doing this. The concept (or, as Warren Ellis put it, the Press Release) is in fact the artwork.

  3.   Administrator
    April 21st, 2008 | 3:21 pm

    tats: yeah, part of the impressed is the hardcore of it
    mo: yeah? the only source i had on it was the one i linked to, which makes it sound like it has been done, and will be exhibited soon.
    {edit} aha. go thee interwebs.

  4.   Jack
    April 21st, 2008 | 4:22 pm

    Ah, I was about to post a comment saying I call bullshit on this one. Artificial insemination is surprisingly difficult, and requires a constant source of sperm: and I think she’d have a few difficulties finding someone willing to provide such a thing (“Give me your sperm so I can get pregnant repeatedly – don’t worry, I’ll abort them, honest”). OK, it’s not without the bounds of possibility, but it’d be surprising. And why bother actually going through with it if you can get pretty much all the same reaction by just claiming you had? Chances are half the wingnuts who’d be protesting the real thing wouldn’t bother fact-checking.

  5.   Pearce
    April 22nd, 2008 | 7:36 am

    It seems to me that this would be far less effective as art if she really did it.

    If she actually went through with this, any ideas she was trying to get across would be lost in the waves of righteous condemnation and queasy voyeurism. This way she still gets those reactions but they become part of the art once people calm down and realise that she’s not actually a mentally ill person killing babies.

    I’m not so sure about “messages” in art, though. I reckon that Kurt Vonnegut was right when he said “If you have a message, send a telegram.” For me art is more about ideas – which are far more slippery and interpretive than messages.

    “Sometimes I wish I was a woman, just so that I could get an abortion.” – John Waters

  6.   Pearce
    April 22nd, 2008 | 7:49 am

    Reading further: the exhibition is supposed to be today (or tomorrow, depending on how you look at the time zones: April 22) and according to Yale Daily News articles she’s still claiming it’s real, she’s showed them video footage of her miscarriages, and the administration are threatening to cancel it if she doesn’t sign something saying that it’s fake. Also that two faculty members have apparently been disciplined over this.

  7.   Pearce
    April 22nd, 2008 | 9:01 am
  8.   Administrator
    April 22nd, 2008 | 11:58 am

    I would find it far more interesting as art, and her as an artist, if she actually did it.

  9.   Pearce
    April 22nd, 2008 | 10:06 pm

    I’m curious as to why…

  10.   Administrator
    April 23rd, 2008 | 1:18 pm

    All very subjective of course, but something like: On knowing it is fake – and all very clever, of course – I found it easy to dismiss without much of a second thought. If it had been done – the concrete act of doing it, of putting the self through that process as art, would entail something very different to me – and would interest me more.

  11.   Pearce
    April 24th, 2008 | 5:55 pm

    I guess what I’m really wondering is, would it interest you as art, or as a freakshow? Like, would you engage more from a sense of curiousity of what was being conveyed, or from voyeurism? (Or a third option I haven’t thought of.)

  12.   Bruce
    April 24th, 2008 | 10:42 pm

    My definition of art– everything. All life is art. This helps me avoid many arguments 😉

    That said, I like it as a fake better than I like it real. As a fake there is this whole storm of reaction that I find interesting, where there isn’t nearly so much I find interesting in the “real” project. There are still reactions but they aren’t as complex, and they carry baggage rather than being more purely about themselves.