Abortion as art

Woah.

For once, I am at a loss for words.

UPDATE:Yale says it is “performance art”:

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.


UPDATE 2
: The artist speaks out, and she has some really interesting things to say:

This piece — in its textual and sculptural forms — is meant to call into question the relationship between form and function as they converge on the body. The artwork exists as the verbal narrative you see above, as an installation that will take place in Green Hall, as a time-based performance, as a independent concept, as a myth and as a public discourse.

It creates an ambiguity that isolates the locus of ontology to an act of readership. An intentional ambiguity pervades both the act and the objects I produced in relation to it. The performance exists only as I chose to represent it. For me, the most poignant aspect of this representation — the part most meaningful in terms of its political agenda (and, incidentally, the aspect that has not been discussed thus far) — is the impossibility of accurately identifying the resulting blood. Because the miscarriages coincide with the expected date of menstruation (the 28th day of my cycle), it remains ambiguous whether the there was ever a fertilized ovum or not. The reality of the pregnancy, both for myself and for the audience, is a matter of reading.

This ambivalence makes obvious how the act of identification or naming — the act of ascribing a word to something physical — is at its heart an ideological act, an act that literally has the power to construct bodies. In a sense, the act of conception occurs when the viewer assigns the term “miscarriage” or “period” to that blood.

Emphasis mine.

Whether she actually did the insemination/period inducement regime or not (she says she did, Yale administrators say she didn’t), she does certainly make the point that naming things shapes reality; no one actually knows if she had abortions, but the story nonetheless revolves around that “fact.” Do read her whole op/ed.


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114 comments for “Abortion as art

  1. Jade
    April 17, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    I was seriously about to look up how to contact Feministe to send this link. Glad I checked the front page before I did.

    As I told the Republican friend (we don’t talk politics much) who pointed this article out to me, this is not pro-choice. This is…I’m not sure what it is, but this isn’t a case to be made for or against choice. It’s an extreme I don’t think either side has ever considered (well, maybe those anti-choice nuts who think women have abortion parties, so I may have to rescind that statement).

    I’m wary of putting any limits on what we can do to our bodies, but I have to wonder if this might fall under the category of “self-harm.” It can’t be healthy to her body, can it? She hasn’t seen a doctor and that worries me. Forget about her current/future fertility, what about the dangers of infection to her body? Maybe that’s moot, though seeing as there’s been some time that’s passed.

    I like to think of myself as fairly open-minded and tolerant, but I really fail to see the art here.

  2. MegRhi
    April 17, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    Woah is right. A faculty member approved this project? Unbelievable!

  3. April 17, 2008 at 3:16 pm

    What do you want to bet this is agitprop, funded by some pro-life organization? They couldn’t buy better propaganda.

  4. Elisabeth
    April 17, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    That’s insane. I’m as pro-choice as anyone, but creating a fetus just to abort it strikes me as immoral. And there’s no way repeated miscarriages, even early ones, could be good for the “artist.” (I hate scare quotes, but they seem appropriate in this case.)

    And, as a trivial side note, you know conservatives will find a way to use it to make a case against federal funding for the arts.

  5. Aaron
    April 17, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    I agree with people’s concerns about this being self-harm, but I’m not really sure I find this immoral. I can’t imagine any of the fetuses were even close to being sentient or viable if she had abortions more than a few times over the course of nine months.

  6. April 17, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    I tried to tackle this, but I really have no idea what I think about it. It is really extreme, and it does make me feel uncomfortable, although I can’t yet put my finger on why.

  7. madaha
    April 17, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    Um, that’s bad art. Like the kind satirized in the art class in “Ghost World”.

    Sociology experiment? Perhaps. Art? not so much.

  8. Lance Hunter
    April 17, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    Hrm… I would have to see the piece before I reserve final judgement, but from an artist’s perspective this just comes off as a stunt piece. The creator of the piece seemed to be quoted talking about how she wants to promote a dialogue in the most general of terms. That’s the first sign that there’s some bullshit going on. Even (good) artists that don’t believe in conveying a message with their work and promoting a dialogue will generally bring up the subjects about which they want the audience to discuss.

    The fact that the artist here doesn’t even get into the most basics of the art’s meaning or direction strongly points towards one thing–she doesn’t know what it means. She just knew that it would be provocative and was able to cover it in enough art talk to get away with pulling it off.

    So basically, another art major put out another crappy piece of stunt art.

  9. Marissa
    April 17, 2008 at 3:36 pm

    I just do not find this to be a very effective work on a number of levels. I think, for one, that people already DO discuss abortion and her goal of provoking discourse seems a little moot. Secondly, this seems entirely outside of the debate. It is neither pro or anti choice. I think if anything, she is aligning herself more with the idea of bohemian, insane artist genius than anything having to do with reproductive politics. As for it being self-harming, so are many other types of art. Even the chemicals in and used with oil paints have been known to cause cancer, especially in the past where ventilation was less of a concern. This work seems to be all about her relationship with mythologies about artists themselves, which could be an interesting discourse because she is seeking these artist mythologies, which are traditionally male-only, using a means which only a female could do. However, I don’t think this is what many of her viewers will be talking about…

  10. EG
    April 17, 2008 at 3:38 pm

    This just seems really dumb. I mean, look at this quotation:

    “I hope it inspires some sort of discourse,” Shvarts said. “Sure, some people will be upset with the message and will not agree with it, but it’s not the intention of the piece to scandalize anyone.”

    “Some sort of discourse”? That’s pretty vague. What kind of discourse do you hope and realistically expect to start? “Some people will be upset by the message”? What is the message, precisely? This is vague, meaningless claptrap.

    If I eat and then take ipecac syrup and puke and film it, what exactly is the message there?

  11. Marissa
    April 17, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    I just do not find this to be a very effective work on a number of levels. I think, for one, that people already DO discuss abortion and her goal of provoking discourse seems a little moot. Secondly, this seems entirely outside of the debate. It is neither pro or anti choice. I think if anything, she is aligning herself more with the idea of bohemian, insane artist genius than anything having to do with reproductive politics. As for it being self-harming, so are many other types of art. Even the chemicals in and used with oil paints have been known to cause cancer, especially in the past where ventilation was less of a concern. This work seems to be all about her relationship with mythologies about artists themselves, which could be an interesting discourse because she is seeking these artist mythologies, which are traditionally male-only, using a means which only a female could do. However, I don’t think this is what many of her viewers will be talking about…

  12. Kati
    April 17, 2008 at 3:45 pm

    The project itself is gross, but what is even more…uh…disturbing…is the artist’s own perception of her project. She said that the project WAS NOT designed for “shock value” and that she had hoped it would inspire discourse about the relationship between art and the human body.

    It has inspired discourse, but only because IT IS SHOCKING! DUH! Very few people will look at this art and be inspired to engage in this type of discourse, primarily because we will be traumatized by the medium itself. The very nature of her installation detracts from any supposed purpose.

    I know how hard and competitive art school is – my best friend emotionally agonized for a full year about her senior art show. Her worst fear was that no one would attend the opening night, and that it wouldn’t receive the well-deserved attention she needed in order to make a name and career for herself.

    This is a classic attempt to gain recognition in a closed system that is ready to ostracize you at any moment. Her senior show will live on in Yale history for many years to come, and some may even remember her name (though I’ve already forgotten it). So maybe the most shocking part of this story is that she had to utilize “shock value” to gain attention/recognition in the first place.

  13. RodeoBob
    April 17, 2008 at 3:46 pm

    It’s a hoax. It’s obviously a hoax.

    Look closely at what the artist says:

    *She never visited a doctor.
    *She never used perscription drugs, only “herbal” options.
    *She refuses to say how many miscarrages she had (to the degree that she will not say that she’s even had one)
    *She refuses to identify any sperm donors or discuss insemination methods.
    *The ‘videos’ are home-made and shot in a private bathroom, and only edited portions will be shown.
    *The ‘blood’ is kept inside plastic, away from close inspection, and mixed with other ingredients to ‘preserve it’.
    *Any other medical records (such as regular visits or emergency room visits) are neither mentioned nor included in the exhibition.

    Most importantly:
    *The goal of the artist was to provoke responses and encourage dialogue and interaction. In other words, to be provocative, not necessarily honest or truthful. In fact, the whole story has a stronger ring of “truthiness” to it: it’s exactly what some people would want to believe.

    It’s an ART INSTALLATION for Maude’s sake! It’s supposed to invoke a response with the audience, be shocking and ‘edgy’. It’s not as over-the-top as this, but it’s in the same genre’.

  14. Gene
    April 17, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    I think that if women are allowed to do what we like with our bodies, that should include turning them into art projects.
    What I think is ridiculous is that the artist didn’t feel the need to consult a doctor because the abortifacients she used were herbal. She’s lucky she didn’t bleed to death.

  15. April 17, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    The article isn’t even clear on whether she was definitely pregnant. Did she take pregnancy tests to make sure she was defo pregnant before taken the herbs?
    Or did she just regularly articially inseminate herself, and then takes herbs to induce her period?

    I don’t have a problem with it. If that’s what she wants to do with her body, and she’s not suffering from it mentally, emotionally or physically then it’s cool with me.

    A fetus is not a person.

    Whether or not it’s good art (or even art at all) I do not know. I’d go and see the show if I could, as I imagine will lots of others who hear about it. And it’s certainly made all of us think, hasn’t it? Or is everyone else too revulsed to think rationally about it?

  16. Danakitty
    April 17, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    Did having miscarriages for a year not have an impact on her academics? :(

    I really hope this doesn’t hurt the pro-choice movement.

  17. April 17, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    I could be wrong, but I kind of smell a hoax.

  18. April 17, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    (By which I mean that I suspect she didn’t actually repeatedly inseminate herself and take abortifacient herbs, much less wait to determine whether she was pregnant in between. I don’t have a guess as to her motivations, beyond attention, but my hunch is that she didn’t actually go through the rigamarole she’s claiming.)

  19. selkie
    April 17, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    first, agree that this is ALL about “shocking” NOT discourse.

    second, agree she has control over her own body but to my mind, this is WRONG – first and foremost, from the perspetive of hurting herself – it bothers me if she did do this that she is setting herself up for some serious medical issues – forcing your body into pregnancy then aborting the fetus would take its toll on your organs.

    third, I’m thinking hoax too – when I think of how HARD some individuals have to work at GETTING pregnant .. and yet what? she manages to hit the jackpot each time? AFTER repeated abortions when chances are that her entire cycle is probably messed up?

    she has a right to do what she likes with her body BUT I find this repugnant – creating and killing something just for the sake of some screwd up “art project” is not karmic I think.

  20. Mnemosyne
    April 17, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    I could be wrong, but I kind of smell a hoax.

    It reminds me of this infamous art project, which then got sent to e-mail inboxes all over the world as an anti-Asian slur.

    I suppose that if we call tattoos and extreme body piercings art even though they mutilate (ie permanently change) the body, this would count as well, but the whole thing definitely has more than a whiff of a hoax to it.

  21. April 17, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    I could be wrong, but I kind of smell a hoax.

    Yeah, that’s what I suspect too, but who knows…

  22. April 17, 2008 at 4:13 pm

    I have a question, on the supposition that it’s not a hoax (and the assumption that even those commenters above who find this disturbing are pro-choice): how do you square that perturbment with Amanda Marcotte’s position that “’I had an abortion’ should be as morally loaded as ‘I had a Pap smear’” – if indeed you do (and I don’t suggest you must)? To put it another way, if you buy into Marcotte’s view of abortion, to one extent of another, why should art made from the effluvia of abortions be any more morally loaded than art made from the effluvia of a pap smear?

  23. Jha
    April 17, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    I call hoax as well. Don’t bodies need some sort of rest periods in between abortions? How could she have gone through that and remained healthy? She didn’t even go to a doctor? What?

    “…it is the nature of her piece to ‘provoke inquiry.'”
    Oh bullshit. It’s designed to be provocative, period. What kind of inquiry can one possibly intend to provoke besides the many obvious questions we’ve already asked here?

    Humbug. =(

  24. Jha
    April 17, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    Simon: The moral ethics of a pap smear is that we do it for health and well-being reasons; the same applies to abortions (or should). Who gets abortions for fun, really? We’re also advised not to rely on abortion as a method of contraception anyway.

    This is just frivolous.

  25. April 17, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    I am also thinking it’s a hoax, but if not here is my take on the piece.
    So maybe it’s about the body as a machine, and the ability to control some aspects of the machine in today’s world. We reproduce, no illogic behind that. She reproduced, for the sake of reproducing. It makes you think of (re)production and what it means to produce something today in our “I do what I want,” culture. So if this is what the message of the piece is suppose to be, I think it’s kinda rad. Thinking about nature vs. technology in todays world through the most largely debated form of these intersections, the abortion. Give the girl a little credit, she is not saying this piece is about being prochoice, in fact it seams like she didn’t want it to be about abortion at all (which seams ironic) but to question the value of life and what it is like if we are all just machines. Alas, this is art and not even a art piece that I am going to get to see.

  26. KeezR
    April 17, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    This is complete bullshit made up by some anti-choice zealot.

  27. Kristen
    April 17, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    she has a right to do what she likes with her body BUT I find this repugnant – creating and killing something just for the sake of some screwd up “art project” is not karmic I think.

    I’m sort of on this level too. NOT that I think she shouldn’t have a right or that it is necessarily ethical. But its like, I don’t know…buying an ant farm just to pour bleach on it. You can do it…but I’m going to think its a little icky.

    Then again I refused to dissect frogs in HS so I’m a bit nuts.

  28. Kristen
    April 17, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    necessarily unethical

    Sorry!

  29. April 17, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    Simon – I think I would be equally disturbed if the artist had voluntarily undergone any other potentially harmful medical procedure repeatedly (one that’s intended for actual medical purposes as opposed to art procedures such as tatooing or piercings), for no purpose other than to create art. I would be disturbed (for example) by someone inserting and removing an IUD weekly, or having herself vaccinated a hundred times in the name of art. I’m disturbed by this.

  30. April 17, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    At first I thought oh, this student had an abortion and took photos and/or film of it, and is using it in an art project to demystify abortion and stop the cries of “how can you kill a cute wittle baby?” by showing that it looks like blood and tissue, not a baby, or anything human.

    But this…eh. She wanted attention. There is no proof that she was pregnant, and since it’s not so easy for sperm to live outside the human body, I’m not sure how effectively anyone could inseminate themselves at home. And yes, if she did induce multiple abortions with herbal medications, then she is lucky she didn’t bleed to death. It does smell like a hoax.

  31. NancyP
    April 17, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    Hoax, in poor taste, and poor quality art.

  32. Jay
    April 17, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    I haven’t had time to post my own blog piece about this (and more people will read this, anyway!) but HOAX.

    There are a lot of purported herbal abortificients out there but none are really reliable. I know my profession has done its damnedest to stamp out millennia of oral wisdom, especially women’s oral wisdom, but I just don’t buy it. And unless by “sperm donation” she means “sex”, that’s not do-it-yourself – it’s not a matter of jacking off into a cup and then sucking it up with a syringe and injecting it. The sperm have to be preserved.

    I call bullshit, and I wonder what the real story is.

  33. April 17, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    Hoax, in poor taste, and poor quality art.

    Question: Are there images of the project somewhere that I haven’t seen? Because otherwise I have a hard time understanding how this would automatically be “poor quality art.”

  34. April 17, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    I’m going with the theory that it’s a hoax. Not necessarily perpetrated by anti-choice people — it certainly could just be an art student’s performance stunt, similar things have been done before with other bodily functions. What makes this potentially crappy art is that it sounds like it doesn’t go much beyond the level of a gross-out stunt. What is she trying to say? She doesn’t seem to know. Is there a point other than that some taboos have been violated around an extremely controversial issue that gravely affects a lot of women’s lives? If there isn’t, then the immorality here is mostly in trivializing something that’s actually serious.

    Actually I don’t think it really matters whether she really miscarried all those embryos or not (aside from the issue people have raised of self-harm) — it’s a stunt either way. Does she have the right to harm herself, put herself through torture and play around with her body’s capacity to generate new organisms? Sure, why not, it’s her body. That doesn’t mean that she SHOULD do that, there are any number of reasons it’s unethical, starting with self-harm and the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a point other than maybe stirring up more “politics of revulsion” around reproductive rights, which becomes the inevitable effect in any case.

    People do inseminate themselves at home, though. You can get the right kind of equipment from livestock suppliers, there are readily available instructions on how to preserve sperm, etc. I mean, this came up just recently with the whole story about how Thomas Beatie and his wife were denied fertility services and then inseminated himself at home.

  35. Roy
    April 17, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    It does sound like she’s trying to pull some wool, I think, but:

    There is no proof that she was pregnant, and since it’s not so easy for sperm to live outside the human body, I’m not sure how effectively anyone could inseminate themselves at home.

    Many lesbians have been very successful at the home insemination. I don’t know rates or anything, but they’re hardly unheard of.

  36. April 17, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    That said, I wish there were more attempts to tastefully and ethically explore the subject of this cartoon through art:

    … but somehow “I got myself pregnant a whole bunch and then had a lot of miscarriages, here they are!” doesn’t seem like the way.

  37. April 17, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    From Wikipedia:

    It is impossible to spell “abortion” without out “art.” If it is attempted, all that is left is “boion.” Boion was the mountain after which the Boeotians were named –- and Boeotia came to be proverbial for the stupidity of its inhabitants, who were prone to fall for abortion-related hoaxes.

  38. Roy
    April 17, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    And unless by “sperm donation” she means “sex”, that’s not do-it-yourself – it’s not a matter of jacking off into a cup and then sucking it up with a syringe and injecting it. The sperm have to be preserved.

    Tell that to Lynn.

  39. April 17, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    I don’t know, I think the piece is um… oddly compelling? It’s pretty standard for artists who produce controversial art to be immediately dismissed as “bad artists,” but it seems like the piece is ALREADY promoting discourse (ok so Shvarts’ comments on that note were pretty vague, but hey look at all these commenters here–mission accomplished). Also artists injure themselves for art like, all the time. Is *that* aspect really so disturbing?

    Anyway, I think it is an interesting challenge to pro-choicers to think about how we envision the limits of choice… are repro-rights folks ready to admit that there might be “bad” reasons for having an abortion and if so, what would be the larger repercussions of that? What does it say about us if we insist that a fetus is not a child and refute the “life begins at conception” mentality, but then find ourselves repulsed by the idea of someone who would inseminate herself expressly in order to have an abortion? I think these are kind of neat questions.

    It’s also interesting to me that so many people (feminists included) have responded along the lines of “EW GROSS.” (like really? her body is that gross to you?)

    But you know, tell me if I’m wrong–maybe I’ll change my mind

  40. beedinks
    April 17, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    Madaha said:

    Um, that’s bad art. Like the kind satirized in the art class in “Ghost World”.

    First thing I thought when I saw this too. Tampon in a teacup times a billion.

  41. RodeoBob
    April 17, 2008 at 5:30 pm

    Does she have the right to harm herself, put herself through torture …? Sure, why not, it’s her body.

    Actually, as a society, we tend to view “doing serious harm to oneself or others” as a threshold for (at least temporary) institutionalization. As with Body Integrity Disorder, we recognize that people no not have an absolute right to do whatever they want with their bodies.

    The more I think about it, the more I think the collective, visceral reaction to this story isn’t so much about abortion as it is about a person willingly inflicting some sort of suffering on themselves.

  42. April 17, 2008 at 5:31 pm
  43. April 17, 2008 at 5:36 pm

    Hoax. I hope.

    Also? Ew.

  44. Hawise
    April 17, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    I lean towards hoax. It is possible to inseminate using various home methods (I know an 18 year-old who settles that case) and various herbs taken in excess can poison a woman sufficiently to cause the body to abort. Heck several easy to get drugs for fungal infections can do the job in most cases. The strain on the body is what makes me question the artist’s story. Either she is remarkably blase about that level of pain, cramping and bleeding or she is telling tales out of school. This seems to me to be a freshman hoax gone too far. It will create discourse but I doubt that it has any artistic merits. Though to be as fair as I can be, I would have to see the final installation to make a decision on the merits.

  45. Oh
    April 17, 2008 at 5:49 pm

    It’s also interesting to me that so many people (feminists included) have responded along the lines of “EW GROSS.” (like really? her body is that gross to you?)

    Well, most people do find bodily discharge of most kinds gross, yes. I don’t find that surprising, for reasons where evolution actually might provide some insight into human behavior. It makes sense, hygienically, for people to be averse to something coded as a waste product and/or associated with injury.

    Actually, I feel like that goes along with some of the anti-abortion rhetoric that should be easy to refute–when they go on showing graphic, shocking pictures of what happens during abortion surgery, they’re ignoring how repulsive graphic photos of just about every kind of invasive surgery look to most people.

  46. Kelsey Jarboe
    April 17, 2008 at 5:50 pm

    As an art historian and artist, these comments make me laugh.

    1.) Yes, artists DO do these kinds of things to themselves. I’ve studied people who nailed or shot or whatever themselves. Just because you wouldn’t do it or don’t think it’s healthy doesn’t mean other people don’t.

    2.) Like Andy Warhol, many artists say one truth and know another. Calling her out on it not being “real”, if that is the case, doesn’t make you particularly clever, you’re missing the point as much as anyone who thinks it’s pro-life propaganda.

    3.) She’s pushing the limits of what the public will accept. Why is this bad art while plasticized fetuses in science museums are okay? I think it’s clever.

  47. Tom
    April 17, 2008 at 5:56 pm

    I find this ghastly and immoral, but it doesn’t change my pro-choice stance.
    Even presuming that it’s not a hoax, you don’t base legislation on the acts of a single individual. The idea that something like this would become an epidemic is preposterous. It also doesn’t change the basic problem of how to enforce anti-abortion laws.

  48. Pipkin
    April 17, 2008 at 6:25 pm

    It is a hoax.

    Yale is saying it was “performance art” and that she never actually was pregnant:

    See the statement here.

  49. RodeoBob
    April 17, 2008 at 6:27 pm

    2.) Like Andy Warhol, many artists say one truth and know another. Calling her out on it not being “real”, if that is the case, doesn’t make you particularly clever, you’re missing the point as much as anyone who thinks it’s pro-life propaganda.

    If you “say one truth and know another”, we non-artist folks call that “lying”. Or, alternatively, “bullshit”. If your ‘point’ is built up around nothing but lies, we non-artist folks also call that “bullshit”. Or, in the classical form:
    If A, then B
    -A, therefore -B
    If B is your point, and A is your story, then ‘your truth’ kinda has to be the same as ‘my truth’ for us to reach the same valid conclusion.

    Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a good prank or hoax as much as the next guy, and seeing the response can be illuminating, but to try and pass it off as anything more than jerking people’s chains is intellectual masturbation.

    3.) She’s pushing the limits of what the public will accept. Why is this bad art while plasticized fetuses in science museums are okay? I think it’s clever.

    I’m sorry, are you asking why a scientific, anatomical display of donated fetuses belongs in a different category than alleged intentional multiple miscarrages created solely for display?

    This is akin to wondering why Hustler is bad art when Michalengelo’s Venus is okay. Again, I get how art can cross and blur lines; Gunther von Hagens work is a great example of rasing those questions. But not only is this not in the same league, it’s not even the same sport.

  50. kali
    April 17, 2008 at 6:45 pm

    uh, my first reaction was to burst out laughing, even before the “hoax” angle occurred to me. Maybe the real project she’s doing is to record how people react to this. The fear she’s creating even among pro-choicers is fascinating; I can’t imagine what a wingnut would do. But I think it would be funny to tell one about this, and watch its face.

  51. CrispyClaire
    April 17, 2008 at 6:53 pm

    I don’t think this is good. It may be different, but it’s not worth it. Imagine if she regrets this in the future, since it’s a completely different thing to making that choice in other circumstances. I’m 100% pro-choice, but it just seems nuts to me. As others have said, this will be detrimental to her health, and also I fear it will cause all the anti-choicers to use it as some kind of stick to beat us all with.

  52. allen
    April 17, 2008 at 6:54 pm

    I can sum it up in one word – “Depraved.”

    This person will stand before God in judgment for her sins – just like everyone else.

    Repent and turn to Jesus Christ in faith and be forgiven!

  53. April 17, 2008 at 6:54 pm

    I’m of two minds about this, really. In terms of self-harm, anyone remember Bob Flanagan? The aspect of disciplining the body through mutilation seems to fall into that area. In terms of the fetus itself, I’m really rather callous; if creating something only to kill it is immoral, folks, we shouldn’t conduct any animal testing whatsoever ever again, or eat meat, or wear leather shoes. Whether it’s art or not … who is to decide, really? And why do we need to put such a value on it at all? If it’s a hoax, great–she grabbed the audience by its moral balls and swung it around a few times. If it’s not, well, still great–she obviously sparked a discussion, which is what she had in mind. In the latter case, I do hope she goes to see a doctor.

  54. Mnemosyne
    April 17, 2008 at 7:04 pm

    It’s pretty standard for artists who produce controversial art to be immediately dismissed as “bad artists,” but it seems like the piece is ALREADY promoting discourse (ok so Shvarts’ comments on that note were pretty vague, but hey look at all these commenters here–mission accomplished).

    Thomas Kincaide’s art has evoked reams of comment and discourse, so clearly he’s the greatest artist in the history of the United States, yes? After all, if that’s your criteria — and not, say, actual artistic merit — then the greatest self-promoter is always the greatest artist.

  55. Jay
    April 17, 2008 at 7:05 pm

    I didn’t make any comment about the quality of the art or whether or not “serious artists” do this “kind of thing”.

    I do stand corrected, I guess, about the sperm-in-a-cup thing; I hadn’t thought about using it immediately. The limitations of my imagination, for sure.

    I stand by my comments about the reliability of herbal abortifacients, or other meds used for abortion. Yes, some prescription meds can increase the risk of a miscarriage, but that’s a far different statement from being sure to end a pregnancy. Even the meds used by prescription aren’t 100%, which is why I can’t prescribe them, since I can’t do the D&C that’s required in a certain percentage of cases when the abortion doesn’t happen at all or isn’t complete.

  56. Mnemosyne
    April 17, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    Or, in other words:

    Stanley Moon: You’re a nutcase! You’re a bleedin’ nutcase!
    George Spiggott: They said the same of Jesus Christ, Freud, and Galileo.
    Stanley Moon: They said it of a lot of nutcases too.

  57. Ann
    April 17, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    Well, if it’s not a hoax, her life is pretty much over. That’s it. This will define her for the rest of her life, and I think it’s pretty safe to say nothing she could possibly do from here one out could overshadow this. So congrats, jackass. I would be more angry with her for providing anti-choicers with such great propaganda if I didn’t believe that she will receive her just deserts today and every day for the rest of her life.

    That’s it. No second chances coming her way. It’s over, and I hope it hits her like a ton of bricks.

  58. Jay
    April 17, 2008 at 7:10 pm

    Oh, and I read the statement on the Yale website, and was particularly amused by this

    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.

    Is there something in particular about the presence of the deans that makes this more – relevant? truthful? important? Because nobody lies to a dean? Especially a dean at Yale? ’cause I’m missing something here.

  59. Ann
    April 17, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    Also, she has put herself in A LOT of danger, which is just another level of stupid. Some fanatic anti-choicer is going to read about what she’s doing and decided to put a stop to it in the worst way possible.

  60. Mnemosyne
    April 17, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    Is there something in particular about the presence of the deans that makes this more – relevant?

    Well, the deans are the ones who decide if you’re going to be expelled, suspended, put on academic probation, have your grade changed to “fail,” or several dozen other possible outcomes. So you certainly could lie to the dean, but it’s really not a good idea if you’re trying to preserve your academic career. Lying to the dean is kind of like lying to the cops — it may seem like a good idea at the time, but it has a high likelihood of backfiring and really pissing them off.

  61. Evan
    April 17, 2008 at 7:25 pm

    I agree with the bad art judgments. Also, I think that just because something’s not a person doesn’t mean it ought to be terminated for our entertainment. There are very real and good reasons to, say, put animals to sleep. That doesn’t mean that we ought to make an art project out of it. The justification for the wanton suffering of things that are not human are intimately connected with justifications for the oppression of other “non-persons”, a category which has included white women, people of color, poor people, and many more. Does that mean that I’m at all against abortion on demand? No. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t think that there are ethical concerns or that the procedure should be no more loaded than a (riskier) pap smear.

    Thanks, Kristen @ 27,
    buying an ant farm just to pour bleach on it
    That’s exactly it.

  62. Evan
    April 17, 2008 at 7:26 pm

    Aren’t ethical concerns, that is.

  63. April 17, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    Jay – I thought the deans were just mentioned to show that the officials at the highest level were aware and involved in the situation.

  64. jackson
    April 17, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    It was clear it was a hoax (or some idiotic performance art thingie) because it is not all that damn easy to get repeatedly pregnant and if herbal abortion inducing agents were that easy to get, we wouldn’t have needed roe v wade.

  65. nobody
    April 17, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    If A, then B
    -A, therefore -B

    Oops; you just denied the antecedent. Not a valid argument.

  66. Molly
    April 17, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    Sadly, the first words that come to me are: she needs to buy a Kevlar vest right now.

    All that information about her on the web? She’s in real, present, physical danger.

  67. Lorelei
    April 17, 2008 at 8:30 pm

    jackson —

    they *are* that easy to get. it’s just that they tend to cause liver damage and also are not as reliable as one would hope.

    you can get info here: http://www.sisterzeus.com/Abortif.htm

    i hope that isn’t against some kind of unspoken guideline to post. i’m by no means recommending this. it’s just where you would find this info.

    vitamin C is also rather effective as an abortifacient in high doses but you have to be careful because, again, liver damage. but i mean that’s very easy to find is all i’m saying.

  68. Roy
    April 17, 2008 at 8:32 pm

    Oops; you just denied the antecedent. Not a valid argument.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one that noticed that. Heh.

  69. Lorelei
    April 17, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    my big point being is that the reason this is a hoax isn’t that it’s hard to get ahold of abortifacient herbs — it’s because it’s not reliable, and it’s not fun, and has great potential to make you very, very ill.

  70. Darcy
    April 17, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    Of course, even if was a “hoax,” does the creation of belief and reaction to it also have some sort of meaning?

    It was interesting that someone thought this would be a better sociological project–with art like this, that’s so much about the message (unless it doesn’t have much of one and then is pretty flimsy art, period), I sometimes wonder if the visual arts are really the best vessel for the message—no one ever seems to want to be clear about what the message is and the thoughts provoked/associated with it are often disconnected with the actual existence of the work, as evidenced by the comments here.

  71. April 17, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    Hmm, U’m slightly surprised by the fact that it was a hoax, if only because a friend of a friend goes to yale and knows this girl and mentioned at our mutual friend’s party some months back that a friend of his was planning, for her senior project, to get pregnant and induce an abortion. Guess she kept up a hell of a front.

  72. Lorelei
    April 17, 2008 at 9:08 pm

    i also want to say:

    people really underestimate the power and good things that can come out of ‘shock effect.’ but let me differentiate: saying hateful, racist, misogynist, homophobic shit is not shocking, it’s just disrespectful and disgusting. so: the dude who said rape is like being force-fed chocolate cake is NOT engaging in shock effect, IMO. but if you’re doing something that shocks people into thinking ‘WTF IS GOING ON HERE?!’ i think there is benefit to this. i think it challenges people’s thoughts, and makes them think about what they think instead of being able to just utter it off-hand. i hate when people say ‘this is just for shock effect.’ well, yes. and shock effect can have great influence and value. in any case, i think she achieved her goal and she did a good job.

  73. R
    April 17, 2008 at 9:30 pm

    I’m just wondering, is anyone here pro-choice but also views fetuses as more than uterine tissue?

    I’m strongly STRONGLY pro choice. I also have had a miscarriage and have thought a lot about what it means to be alive, to be human, etc. I have heard the choice to have an abortion described as choosing to release that future child’s spirit back into the universe so that it can be born to someone who will be able to give it life. This was a native american spiritual tradition that this idea came out of, but I apologize because I can’t remember what tradition — a northwestern US tribe.

    Anyway, I just wonder if it’s possible to believe actions this art student pretended to carry out would, in fact, be unethical — but at the same time be pro-choice.

    I used to believe that fetuses weren’t human beings… now I think it’s more complicated. Not that their coming into existence should be valued more highly than the health or mental health of a pregnant woman; and not that their coming into existence is always a good thing — too many children are abused and neglected for me to believe that every pregnancy should come to term. I don’t even know if I believe human beings have souls…. I just think it’s complicated.

    Am I the only one here who thinks there’s a gray area, and that this artwork maybe does force you to consider that?

  74. R
    April 17, 2008 at 9:35 pm

    I’m glad you moderate comments on this site.

    One clarification, when I said “I just wonder if it’s possible to believe actions this art student pretended to carry out would, in fact, be unethical — but at the same time be pro-choice.”

    I meant that I would view her actions as unethical, even though I am pro-choice — not that I thought the actions themselves would be both unethical and pro choice.

  75. ACM
    April 17, 2008 at 9:43 pm

    Not reading the comments yet, but my thoughts are this is the type of thing that would get anti-choicers drooling. The terms they most often use to describe abortion pretty much lie hand in hand with this, that women are just running around getting pregnant for the thrill of having an abortion. Wasn’t that some of the claims of so-called ex-PP workers. That they were required to meet a quota of abortions each week or some such. I can see a lot of anti-choice pointing to this screaming “See! See what they do!”

  76. Marissa
    April 17, 2008 at 9:44 pm

    “As an art historian and artist, these comments make me laugh.”
    Kelsey, you are not the only art historian or artist for that matter contributing to this discussion. No need to be so pretentious about it.

    “2. Like Andy Warhol, many artists say one truth and know another.”
    True she may not be divulging her intentions, but that does not mean that what she is doing is “clever” as you say. Her only explanation is to incite discourse. To me, that really sounds like she has no clue what her work means or what her intention is. It’s bold, sure, but I think it lacks purpose. And doing something this directionless about abortion, a topic already with such a strong pattern of discourse, isn’t going to lead her viewers to any new conclusions.

    “3.) She’s pushing the limits of what the public will accept. Why is this bad art while plasticized fetuses in science museums are okay? I think it’s clever.”
    This idea of pushing the limits of acceptability is not new in any way in the art world. I think maybe she is trying to align herself with that tradition and the tradition of the bohemian insane artist genius, a tradition that goes back at least to romanticism. But I think this is an unsuccessful project even if that is her intention because her work is only upsetting both the pro and anti choice sides of the debate, and as I said above, it is directionless, adding nothing to the debate.

  77. grapeshot
    April 17, 2008 at 9:54 pm

    If A, then B. If not B, then not A.

  78. April 17, 2008 at 10:16 pm

    Well, if she really did get pregnant that many times in 9 months after having repeated abortions during the same timeframe, then I guess really negates the anti-choice claim that abortions reduce fertility. Like, really, uber-negates it.

  79. Ian
    April 17, 2008 at 10:33 pm

    It is her body and she can do whatever she wants with it. Your opinion matters not.

  80. Felicia
    April 18, 2008 at 12:19 am

    I’m surprised pro-life people aren’t jumping all over this.

    I don’t know what I think about this. It seems to go with the argument of when does life begin. And I don’t know when life begins. If it begins after a cell splits, this seems immoral. If we should consider life beginning when the fetus is viable outside the womb, then it’s not immoral. My head hurts over this one.

    I hope it’s a hoax because if it isn’t, this just can’t help the argument for Plan B and morning after pills.

  81. Jennifer-Ruth
    April 18, 2008 at 7:47 am

    Well – she has hardly “failed” to incite discourse. 85 comments here and many, many other blog posts are sweeping across the internet. We’re talking about it – so, she succeeded in her aim, I guess.

    Secondly, it doesn’t seem to all be a hoax – she just doesn’t know if she was pregnant or not. However, there is also the possibility that she staged it all and just wants us to believe it, which has its own artistic integrity.

    I don’t really appreciate this as art and it makes me feel (personally) ethically uncomfortable. But it is her body and she can do what she wants. That is what choice comes down to eventually – you can’t imagine that no woman would ever abuse it? But that is what comes with freedom for us all.

    Lastly, it is art. You can say that you don’t like it or see any merit in it (as I said, I don’t like it much myself) but it IS art.

  82. Pipkin
    April 18, 2008 at 9:53 am

    An update on this: Shvarts is claiming that Yale is lying, and that she actually did go through with everything, though she doesn’t know if she ever actually became pregnant. In response, Yale is saying that Shvarts’ claims are a continuing part of her performance art, and that Shvarts told them when she confessed to the hoax that she would continue to lie to the press.

    See the YDN article here.

    This is really so bizarre.

  83. Pipkin
    April 18, 2008 at 9:55 am

    Also, I have to agree that as ridiculous as I think this whole project is, I do worry for this woman’s safety.

  84. EG
    April 18, 2008 at 9:58 am

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

    What’s that supposed to be about? Nobody’s denying her right to “express herself through performance art.”

    But she incited discourse? So what? Britney Spears shaving her head incited discourse. Lindsay Lohan going into rehab incited discourse. All “incited discourse” means is that people are talking about it. Big whoop. A lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. People talk about abortion all the time. If you don’t actually care what kind of discourse you’re inciting, and you don’t actually know what your “message” is, your art isn’t very interesting.

  85. Pipkin
    April 18, 2008 at 10:13 am

    Sorry for the multiple posts, but I just saw this: Shvarts wrote an op ed today for the Yale Daily News.

    “The reality of the pregnancy, both for myself and for the audience, is a matter of reading.”

    It’s an interesting read, though I don’t see how she accomplished what she set out to do– “recognize [her body’s] potential as extending beyond its ability to participate in a normative function.”

  86. Kelsey Jarboe
    April 18, 2008 at 10:45 am

    The amount of hand-wringing and general moralizing has put my face in my palm.

  87. Ismone
    April 18, 2008 at 10:50 am

    I think it is well nigh impossible that she actually conceived. Here’s why. She claims to have inseminated herself on days 9-15 of her cycle. There is a period of 10–12 days between ovulation and menstruation. (Each woman has a specific no. of days, personally, I am 11.) So, if you have a routine 28-day cycle and a 10 day luteal phase, day 18 is when you ovulate. (But you will only know if you have ovulated on day 18 once your period happens, or if you are tracking ovulation at the time and see, e.g., a temperature spike.) If you have a routine 28-day cycle and a 12 day luteal phase, you ovulate on day 16.

    So, basically, regardless of the length of her luteal phase, she excluded the three days on which she is most likely to get pregnant, even assuming that she has a 28-day cycle. Which I doubt. Most women I know are 30-31 days, adding another three days that she should have been inseminating herself if she wanted to get pregnant.

    Now, it is true that sperm can survive inside a woman’s body for up to 7 days. (That is the record.) However, for that to happen, the cervical fluid has to be fairly receptive. Let me just say that this is unusual. Particularly, as someone pointed out, if she is repeatedly stressing her body with herbs, whether they induce an abortion or not.

    So I’m thinking she never got pregnant, even if she is telling the entire truth. My source re: luteal phases is “Taking Charge of Your Fertility.”

  88. Roy
    April 18, 2008 at 10:55 am

    Yale: “She’s lying.”
    Shvarts: “They’re lying about my lying.”
    Yale: “She lied, and now she’s lying about our lying about her lying.”

    Maybe this is the point of the project.

  89. April 18, 2008 at 10:59 am

    @ EG you don’t think the conversations incited by this piece are interesting? I find myself very interested that all the feminists who promote t-shirts that say “I had an abortion” don’t want this feminist to tell anyone about her potential abortion(s)… IDK!

    Also, why does it matter so much what the artist thinks about the piece? It’s pretty boring to judge a work of art just by the comprehensiveness of the artist’s understanding of it.

  90. April 18, 2008 at 11:04 am

    Also, at this point, does it really matter whether she ACTUALLY inseminated herself, or ACTUALLY conceived? It seems like the effect has been accomplished and the question of whether it was a hoax is almost moot.

  91. EG
    April 18, 2008 at 11:19 am

    No, I don’t really find the conversations that interesting. Here’s what happened: she claims to have done something shocking in its complete unlikelihood and silliness. Then people start talking about how shocking, unlikely, and silly it is. It’s like an episode of _Survivor_. Sure, eating roasted rat is shocking, which is why they did it, and now people are talking about eating roasted rat, whether or not they would, etc. It doesn’t make eating roasted rat interesting or relevant to real life.

    If a piece of art exists only to incite discourse, as this artist implied by what she said, then I do think it’s fair to judge it by the artist’s understanding of its message. There doesn’t seem like there’s much to this but the message. I would find it more interesting if she was saying that she did this to explore the possibilities of the shades of red and brown in women’s effluvia, and when they blur. Look at something like Piss Christ–there’s a massive disjunction between the title and the visual effect of the cross floating in this luminous, ruby-red fluid. But she’s said nothing about the actual visuals here.

  92. Pipkin
    April 18, 2008 at 11:46 am

    Also, at this point, does it really matter whether she ACTUALLY inseminated herself, or ACTUALLY conceived?

    To me it absolutely does. I am pro-choice, and I believe that abortion means taking a life. I think it’s a very sad act that has to be legal but should be rare (and could be if contraception and education were more available). So in my opinion, if she conceived, she killed an embryo for a publicity stunt. Or art. Or whatever. Then did it again and again. And that’s morally wrong.

  93. nick
    April 18, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    EG:

    Here’s what happened: she claims to have done something shocking in its complete unlikelihood and silliness. Then people start talking about how shocking, unlikely, and silly it is.

    If a piece of art exists only to incite discourse, as this artist implied by what she said, then I do think it’s fair to judge it by the artist’s understanding of its message. There doesn’t seem like there’s much to this but the message.

    I don’t think the piece is simply intended to create discourse about how “shocking, unlikely, and silly it is.” Shvarts’ op ed raises a number of interesting points, and although it’s certainly a shocking piece, the fact that the discourse here hasn’t moved past that fact shouldn’t count against it. Personally, although I don’t think it’s particularly effective as a critique of heteronormative/sexist narratives, I think it’s an effective and insightful metaphor into how authorial acts function.

  94. Lorelei
    April 18, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    word to nick.

  95. Kati
    April 18, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    SEE! We are not discoursing about the interconnections between the female body and function! We are discoursing (read: freaking out) about the ethics of abortion and whether the artist was lying and whether she was insane!!!! THE WHOLE POINT OF HER WORK WAS UNDERMINED BY HER MEDIUM! i just love it when I’m right – that all.

  96. Kati
    April 18, 2008 at 2:38 pm

    correction…some are discoursing about art and function – but that is certainly not the focus of mainstream media. don’t want to step on anyone’s intellectualizing toes…

  97. April 18, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    In today’s op/ed Shvarts makes it clear that this is all a performance. In other words, when she’s talking about the project, she’s acting out a role. She’s not engaged in anything like a literal recitation of facts, such as she might give in private to the dean. It’s all part of the act, folks:

    To protect myself and others, only I know the number of fabricators who participated, the frequency and accuracy with which I inseminated and the specific abortifacient I used. Because of these measures of privacy, the piece exists only in its telling. This telling can take textual, visual, spatial, temporal and performative forms — copies of copies of which there is no original.

    This piece — in its textual and sculptural forms — is meant to call into question the relationship between form and function as they converge on the body. The artwork exists as the verbal narrative you see above, as an installation that will take place in Green Hall, as a time-based performance, as a independent concept, as a myth and as a public discourse.

    If you strip away the academic jargon, maybe there’s a glimmer of an interesting idea. The anti-abortion movement loves to use ultrasounds and photographs and pregnancy tests as rhetorical tools–they’ve seized on technology that puts the evidence of pregnancy on display, to her, her doctor, judges, Congress, protesters, the “fabricator,” etc.

    I’m told that before we had all this technology, people thought differently about when pregnancy happened. It was a gradual process, because that’s what a woman experienced. Non-implanted fertilized eggs and very early miscarriages are very common. Most of the time, the woman has no inkling of the little cellular drama that may or may not be going on inside her.

    The idea of treating every non-implanted fertilized ovum as equivalent to an abortion or a miscarriage is absurd, even to many ardent anti-choicers. This natural, largely invisible process of trial and error is just part of the everyday workings of the reproductive system in sexually active women. If you’re a fertile woman who has regular unprotected vaginal intercourse, sometimes there’s a fertilized egg inside you and sometimes there isn’t–and none of this ebb and flow really matters to anyone until the pregnancy gets far enough along to start impinging on your subjective experience–whether by a missed period, or morning sickness, or whatever.

    Now that we know the cytology and physiology, we know that there’s a point in time when the egg is fertilized by a sperm cell, and another point in time when the fertilized ovum implants in the wall of the uterus and starts sending out the chemical signals that alert the rest of the body.

    The anti-choicers like to create bright lines–lines beyond which they can tell women what to do. Whether it’s fertilization, or implantation, or the first detectable heartbeat, or whatever.

    A lot of the fight over Plan B had to do with misinformation about what the pill even did. It’s just high-dose birth control pills. It prevents pregnancy from occurring. By branding it as an “abortion pill” the pro-lifers sought to scare women away from it. All of a sudden it became a high stakes moral controversy. They found a way to make a non-implanted egg the cultural equivalent of a miscarriage or an abortion in the minds of a lot of women. Regardless of the legal status of Plan B, that was a rhetorical victory for the anti-choice side.

    Maybe Shvarts is trying to explore an older way of thinking where women’s experiences were primary evidence of pregnancy or non-pregnancy. She’s recreating the mystery surrounding human reproduction–and look how mad it makes EVERYONE when she won’t give an account of the details. We’re all pouring over the timeline, trying to extract the facts that strike us as the most important. Was there sperm involved? Which herbs? Was there a human embryo somewhere in that sloughed-off uterine lining? Our entirely predictable reaction is partly what the piece is about.

    She’s the artist, the creator. Only she knows what’s really going on. She’s in charge of the process. What allegedly went on in her body is supposed to parallel what is going on in her art (the physical works and the social/performance art aspect).

  98. April 18, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    Can you be pro-choice and anti-abortions? What she is doing is beautiful, its pushing our conversations and making us all think. Is there a certain number of abortions a women is allowed? Thank god no, but it sounds like a lot of people think there is an ethical and a unethical way to approach abortion, which makes little sense to me. All of a sudden its the pro-choicers talking about ethics and morals in regards to abortion, and begin to chip away at a womens right to choose. Thank god we have that right, its her choice to decide what she wants to do with her body.

  99. Lorelei
    April 18, 2008 at 3:52 pm

    EG, if that’s what you think that’s what people have been talking about, you’re either purposefully pretending to have only seen that, or you have no been paying attention.

    i’ve been seeing many, many conversations in the blogosphere. for instance, people started talking about the ‘right’ types of abortion/how many abortions is too many, whether the creation and purposeful killing of a fetus really IS a bad thing (something we don’t talk about because when the prolife movement brings it up, we say, ‘wtf that’s so dumb and unlikely that we’re not even going to address it,’ which, i mean, it is. but yeah), and even if she didn’t get pregnant, is it OK for her to just fuck with her body that way? should we put her mental health into question and intervene with an adult woman’s actions in the name of art? the beginning of what might be an interesting discussion started happening on a livejournal community about how bodily autonomy and decisions about what you do with it connects with perceptions of mental health. is it OK to moralize something medically ‘disturbing’ that someone may do to themselves? how does this connect with other sorts of crap that people do (cosmetic surgery, tattoos, whatever)? is this just ‘fueling’ the prolife movement and ‘proving them right,’ and if it is, should we give a fuck? what should we say about this sort of thing? should we be making excuses for the ‘questionable’ actions of one woman because a faction of people will interpret it as defining a whole group of people, and should we even entertain responding to the prolife movement on their charges?

    hose are the discussions i’ve seen happen, and you know what, the majority of them were not had before, and if they were, they didn’t happen all that often.. and moreover, in the past they were talked about in hypotheticals, and people felt detached from it and didn’t really feel any emotional connection to what they were saying or the hypothetical situation posited. while people still thought this was real, though, there was some real emotional energy crap going on and some really charged discussion/arguing about it. which i thought was pretty cool.

  100. Cara
    April 19, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    Our entirely predictable reaction is partly what the piece is about.

    Agreed. Considering how many pregnancies never happen because the fertilized egg doesn’t attach, or is reabsorbed, or attaches and then is detached by miscarriage before one can even see the tissue, early pregnancies have always been pretty abstract, more idea than hard fact.

    The anti-choicers’ issue has always been precisely that–how dare a woman CHOOSE whether her pregnancy continues or ends. How dare SHE decide whether to “bring on” her period if it was late, say. Their position is that it’s up to God, her husband, her father, her pastor (heh), but not up to her. It might even be up to “nature”, however that’s defined, but the woman herself is to have NO CONSCIOUS CHOICE OR CONTROL.

    What she says she did sounds like what pro-choicers are always accused of, anyway–getting pregnant willy nilly and ending the pregnancies for ‘selfish’ or ‘trivial’ reasons without any thought about it. On that level I don’t know whether to laugh my ass off or be shocked. Probably both. At the same time.

    I’m not down with ‘ew’ as a response except for the idea (see?) of saving waste matter. Since the anti-choicers aren’t checking used tampons for fertilized eggs, I think this is part of her point, too. Speaking strictly out of my ass, I don’t believe she really did any more than bring on her periods (if that), thereby making the whole controversy moot except for the discussion it precipitates. I could be wrong, though, since I didn’t see the work and don’t really want to.

  101. April 19, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    I actually really like her op-ed and have a more favorable view of her work now that I’ve been influenced by her own interpretation as the creator. More or less what Lindsay said.

    However, I find it hard to believe that she’s naive enough to think this project wouldn’t invoke “shock value” or that the shock value wouldn’t potentially draw huge amounts of attention. Maybe she had an optimistic idea of what the signal-to-noise ratio would be, with the signal being her point about normative functions of women’s bodies… but still, that’s not the most blatant reading of her work, and I tend to think artists are responsible to some degree for those most blatant readings.

    It’s an interesting read, though I don’t see how she accomplished what she set out to do– “recognize [her body’s] potential as extending beyond its ability to participate in a normative function.”

    The normative purpose, the “biology textbook” purpose — and if the wingnuts had their way, the heavily policed purpose — of a uterus and ovaries is to produce eggs which can be inseminated by sperm and then to carry the resulting embryo to term. It sound like Shvarts’ purpose for her uterus and ovaries was to create something once a month that might or might not have been a fertilized embryo, through the use of sperm-donating “fabricators” and something that might induce a miscarriage. The interesting thing is that really, female reproductive systems get used for this purpose all the time by any number of women who have sex and then run into any number of “abortifacient” situations or substances that can result in a miscarriage. It’s just that Shvarts was doing it much more deliberately and explicitly. It’s simultaneously utterly normal, totally outside the “normative explanation” of what uterus and ovaries are for, and utterly abhorrent to the right wing.

  102. April 19, 2008 at 8:45 pm

    What she says she did sounds like what pro-choicers are always accused of, anyway–getting pregnant willy nilly and ending the pregnancies for ’selfish’ or ‘trivial’ reasons without any thought about it. – Cara

    Maybe that’s the why the anti-choice crowd have been oddly quiet (as far as I’ve seen). Focussing on this woman makes plain that something they claim is common is in fact exceptional, perhaps almost unique.

  103. Banisteriopsis
    April 20, 2008 at 8:55 am

    It seems odd to me that so many people want so hard to believe that the artist was lying, that she wasn’t ever really pregnant. If you’re of the opinion that the contents of a woman’s body are solely under her domain, then she’s free to do whatever she likes with them, right?

  104. Pipkin
    April 20, 2008 at 9:42 am

    If you’re of the opinion that the contents of a woman’s body are solely under her domain, then she’s free to do whatever she likes with them, right?

    I don’t get the sense that most people are claiming she’s not free to do whatever she likes with her body. The reaction I’ve seen the most is *disapproval* of what she has claimed to have done with her body. I think that’s different.

    I think it’s fair to be of the stance that:
    1) a woman has the right to do what she wants with her body, AND
    2) we can dislike or disapprove of the choices she makes (particularly if she sends out a press release about them).

    I will absolutely defend Shvarts’ right to have abortions. But I will criticize her for impregnating herself for the purpose of aborting.

  105. Banisteriopsis
    April 20, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    I will absolutely defend Shvarts’ right to have abortions. But I will criticize her for impregnating herself for the purpose of aborting.

    That’s true, you are completely free to feel how you want about her project. But even calling it an abortion is kind of iffy. She was deliberately unaware of whether she was passing any fertilized eggs or not. After 2-3 weeks you can hardly call a clump of cells a person. A fetus doesn’t have consciousness or the ability to feel at that point. So it’s not as if she was harming anyone, including herself. When she says abortions this is what she’s referring to.

    I also had an initial visceral “ew” reaction to her project, but I can’t come up with a good reason why anything she did would be immoral or unethical, that doesn’t also deny her body sovereignty. It seems like you’re saying women have a responsibility to society to care for their own unborn children from the point of conception. What about if a woman deliberately has sex, knowing that if she does get pregnant, she’ll get an abortion. Would that also be wrong?

  106. Pipkin
    April 20, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    After 2-3 weeks you can hardly call a clump of cells a person.

    Well, that’s the debate, right? I respect your opinion on it. Personally I wouldn’t think of it as a person or a baby, but I’d call it alive. I find it unethical to take life for no good reason, and in my view that’s what she’s done. (I don’t think art is a good enough reason.)

    What about if a woman deliberately has sex, knowing that if she does get pregnant, she’ll get an abortion. Would that also be wrong?

    I can’t make a judgment about someone whose circumstances I don’t know. I know that I have access to birth control and and I’ve had a good sex education. I could also carry a child to term without having to drop out of school or be disowned by my family. Etc. So if I had sex and planned to use abortion as birth control, that would be unethical (in my opinion), since I have a lot of other options. But I can say that because I know my own situation.

    I realize that sounds like a double standard since I am passing a judgment on Shvarts’ actions. But I suppose that’s because she put them all out there in a press release for us to think about.

  107. Banisteriopsis
    April 21, 2008 at 4:17 am

    So if I had sex and planned to use abortion as birth control, that would be unethical (in my opinion), since I have a lot of other options. But I can say that because I know my own situation.

    I actually met a girl once whose method of birth control was to get pregnant, because she didn’t like using condoms. It could have been a put-on, but she was pregnant at the time, and was all kinds of stupid for other reasons, so I wouldn’t have been surprised.

    It’s a really difficult issue. IBTP has a good post about the blood cube, and the comments are pretty interesting too.

  108. Pipkin
    April 21, 2008 at 4:35 am

    Wow, Banisteriopsis. I always thought stories like that were anti-choice myths. Hopefully they’re rare. At the least, abortion-as-birth-control is not great for one’s health.

    Thanks for the link, I’ll check it out.

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