This is going to be long so I’ll put the bulk of it behind a jump, if “abortion/miscarriage as art” doesn’t float your boat.

I know some of you hang out in the same feminist sites I do, so you may have seen this article (Yale Daily News – For senior, abortion a medium for art, political discourse): 

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.

And you may have further read that it turned out to be possibly a hoax, or rather, when Yale administrators asked her, she said she hadn’t really done those things (Statement by Yale University). So maybe it’s not true. Or maybe it is, it’s hard to tell:

Yale spokesperson Helaine Klasky stated, “Ms. Shvarts’s continuing repudiation of what she told senior university officials seems a part of her performance. Yesterday, she stated in front of the Dean of Yale College, the Dean of Students, and the Master of her residential college that she did not impregnate herself and did not induce miscarriages. Today the Yale student newspaper published an op-ed by Ms. Shvarts in which she contradicted what she said yesterday to the Deans and Master. However, in conversations today with university officials, she reiterated what she had told the administrators yesterday.”

Klasky uses the word “impregnate” but I’m not sure that insemination = impregnation. Just ask anyone who’s struggling to conceive. Or ask wikipedia:

Artificial insemination (AI) is the process by which sperm is placed into a female’s uterus (intrauterine), or cervix (intracervical) using artificial means rather than by natural sexual intercourse with the intention of impregnating the female.

Shvarts claims to have inseminated herself, but never took pregnancy tests so whether impregnation occurred is not known. That’s a nice lead-in to the next quotation. Above, Klasky refers to Shvarts’ op-ed (Shvarts explains her ‘repeated self-induced miscarriages’), in which she writes many art-studenty things about ambiguity and naming the experience including,

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…

In a sense, the act of conception occurs when the viewer assigns the term “miscarriage” or “period” to that blood.

And you may have further read that Yale won’t let her show her project without a disclaimer. It’s got to be accompanied by a statement equivalent to “no puppies were hurt during the making of this movie” (Statement of Peter Salovey, Dean of Yale College):

[W]e will not permit her to install the project unless she submits a clear and unambiguous written statement that her installation is a work of fiction: that she did not try to inseminate herself and induce miscarriages, and that no human blood will be physically displayed in her installation.

Ok. I’m not going to attempt to provide any deep analysis of this incident or whether it’s likely to be a hoax. You can see Majikthise, Amanda, or Twisty (twice!), or your favorite feminist blogger of choice. Or just meditate on the obvious: people freak out when women attempt to own, even fictionally, the products of their uteri.

bedtimestories My humble contribution to this discussion is that I happened to be listening to Madonna’s Bedtime Stories album the other day, and this brouhaha that Shvarts is going through brought to mind the song “Human Nature” in which Madonna answers the critics who condemned her book Sex and her album Erotica.

You wouldn’t let me say the words I longed to say
You didn’t want to see life through my eyes
[Express yourself, don’t repress yourself]
You tried to shove me back inside your narrow room
And silence me with bitterness and lies
[Express yourself, don’t repress yourself]

I’m breakin’ all the rules I didn’t make
[Express yourself, don’t repress yourself]

Did I say something true?
Oops, I didn’t know I couldn’t talk about sex
[I musta been crazy]
Did I have a point of view?
Oops, I didn’t know I couldn’t talk about you
[What was I thinking]

I’m not saying Shvarts is the next Madonna. And maybe Yale does have a good in loco parentis type of justification for insisting that students not endanger their health, even voluntarily, for a school project. So much so, that even if she did, they need her to say she didn’t. But in thinking about this work, her point of view about naming this experience, and the conditions the Yale dean is imposing on the exhibition of it, I couldn’t shake a feeling of connection between the two women.

[I’m such a dork for Madonna, by the way, that even though I haven’t seen the video for “Human Nature” since I was in college a dozen+ years ago, I still remembered it pretty strongly. Her stuff is always so distinctive and has such a strong voice. Check it out at MTV. Yes, I’ve preordered her next album. No, this long post was not merely a pretext to link to a Madonna video.]

Let’s end this on a further tangent. Not that the following works are without their own controversy, but I’ll just mention that artists have previously used human urine (Piss Christ), menstrual blood (Female Genital Mutilation), raw meat (Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorexic) and elephant dung (No Woman No Cry) in works that have been exhibited publicly. Art evidently occurs in all kinds of wacky media, yo.