Thursday, April 17, 2008

Abortion as Art

I'm coming off a two week conference rush and rounding the bend right into final exams and papers, a condition that generally dramatically decreases the amount of news I ingest or general attention I pay to the world. That said, I got home from school this afternoon to find at least half a dozen messages, via email, LiveJournal and Facebook, all wanting to know if I had seen this:
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.

The goal in creating the art exhibition, Shvarts said, was to spark conversation and debate on the relationship between art and the human body. But her project has already provoked more than just debate, inciting, for instance, outcry at a forum for fellow senior art majors held last week. And when told about Shvarts' project, students on both ends of the abortion debate have expressed shock . saying the project does everything from violate moral code to trivialize abortion.
So yes, internet, I have seen this, and the reason I didn't place it up here sooner is... I really, honestly don't know what to say.
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.
In my office, I have artwork made by students - and some of that artwork contains human osteoblasts. Although I don't own any of it, some students used their own blood or sperm in their projects; I have an art project done for a research course that is bound with my hair. And then, of course, there is Critical Art Ensemble's BioTech projects, including Cult of the New Eve, GenTerra and Marching Plague.

The idea of using the body and its cast-offs in art is nothing new. There are even well known artists, male and female, who use menstrual blood in their work, and of course, Turner Prize winners have used just about every secretion and bodily cast-off possile in their art. So I can approach it from that view and theory and it's interesting, potentially provocative. I'd like to see her artist statement and what the point she was driving at with is.

And then I pause and go "waitaminute, she intentionally got pregnant and aborted multiple times for art?!" and it's hard not to have an intuitive moral outrage - perhaps regardless of your position on abortion. Abortion is not something to be done lightly, it's not a lark. It's often a difficult and wrenching position for women to be in, especially those in areas where the local community is not so supportive of a woman's right to choice. And even if a woman feels nothing but lightness and joy at no longer being pregnant, it's still hard to ignore the fact that the choice made was a serious decision. I think Yale student Sara Rahman ('09) had it right when she said that the art project "turns what is a serious decision for women into an absurdism, [and it] discounts the gravity of the situation that is abortion."

Personhood, moral agency - these are things that are difficult to define, and defend. It's a core discussion in bioethics, and probably always will be; I have a hard time seeing us suddenly wake up one morning and all agree. But this seems to go beyond, and I fear that why it's going beyond might get lost in the shuffle, or accusations that I've already seen (if you support abortion this should be fine it's the same thing etc).

I'm still thinking about it, but I think the line it crosses it not that it's an abortion, but that it's an abortion for entertainment. While it is certainly her body and her own right to do with it as she will, it's coming dangerously close to the almost apocryphal stories of women who use abortion as birth control, only instead of finding herself unintentionally pregnant and aborting, she is intentionally impregnating herself, aborting while filming, rinse and repeat. There seems to be an intentional callousness to this that separates it out from the often legitimate moral questioning that revolves around the abortion debate, and knocks it into an entirely separate sphere best defined by three letters: W T F.

I admit, I find myself really hoping that the actual art project is analyzing social reaction to a "fake" project (of abortion as art).

So tell me, internet, as I mull this over and see if I can come up with a more coherent argument: what do you think?
-Kelly Hills

1 comment:

Evelyn said...

I think my first thought was "does she have any idea how much that hurts?"
And then I re-read it, and realized that she's already done this.
My thoughts are primarily about her health and safety. About what the repeated hormonal shifts did to her, about how so many miscarriages affected her, etc.
And then I think about how incredibly stupid it seems. Getting pregnant in order to have an abortion? Seriously? You want to put yourself through that? Getting pregnant accidentally when you know before the stick changes that you'll have an abortion is one thing. Intentionally becoming pregnant when you have no intention of carrying the pregnancy to term seems foolish and wasteful, and a wee bit crazy.