I left work still thinking about this and I don't want to carry it into my holiday.
I have an MFA; I think, at this point, I can call myself a professional artist. My background is in writing, my tangential credit hours are in printmaking. I've been a printmaker--italio and etching--for 16 years.
The mark of a responsible artist--as I was taught--is to focus on intent and predict reaction. After all, without intent, art is meaningless. Without a lack of consideration for others, art is at best thoughtless and at worst reckless.
What was Aliza Shvarts intent and predicted reaction?
"The goal in creating the art exhibition, Shvarts said, was to spark conversation and debate on the relationship between art and the human body."
Her intent was to open discourse, and, of course, she has. We are all talking about this. Perhaps, not in the way she hoped or with the focus being on the relationship between art and the human body. I have yet to read anything about this project that actually fulfills the student's intent. What I have read are a lot of thoughts about responsibility--which was not actually the point of the project. So, from that standpoint, I would give this project a failing grade.
I am not upset by her actions on one hand--after all, she was never pregnant therefore, it was never an abortion nor a miscarriage. For pregnancy to occur, implantation needs to occur and hCG needs to be noted. She can inseminate herself as much as she wishes, but if she is taking medications afterwards to stimulate her body to reject it, she is not actually impregnating herself. She is merely squirting in some semen, encouraging her body to slough off the uterine lining, and believing she has experienced a miscarriage.
For those of us who have actually experienced a miscarriage, we know that the physical part is nothing. It's the emotional part that kills you.
Taking cold medicine doesn't mean that you have a cold and taking abortion pills after an insemination doesn't mean that you are miscarrying. But I don't expect a 21-year-old art major to understand how conception works.
I do expect that there is an adult somewhere in the background who approved this project. And that is where my anger, my disappointment, my frustration, my bile is directed. Because there is too fine a line between free thought and irresponsible guidance. And this was a teaching opportunity missed.
Aliza Shvarts, like most people in this world, cannot be expected to know how miscarriage--or abortion--actually feels emotionally. But an adult can be expected to exercise enough guidance to help her understand that pretending through art does not mean you can make an actual statement about reality. And what was then the point of this project and what did she learn from a year at Yale?
I am pro-choice AND I'm an infertile woman and it's a hard road to walk internally because those two worlds clash so strangely. But this isn't about abortion at all for me. Or even reproductive rights. Or a woman hurting her body or tossing away a chance or treating gametes like garbage. Gametes like paint. Maybe, a small part of it is anger at someone treating so cavalierly what I can't do on my own. Or memories of what I believed to be true back when I was in college. Or simply a visceral memory of crouching over the toilet, my head leaning against the wall. Or lying on a gurney in an emergency room hallway because there were no curtained areas for privacy.
Driving home today, I realized why I was still crying, hours after I had read about it. And it isn't just about the reproductive statement. This is precisely why I left academia and that decision, while it was the best one for me, is still something I find very painful and a huge loss. When I left academia, I left behind years and years of work that had taken me to that place. But I couldn't work in a place where the lines between teaching and thought and irresponsibility and thoughtlessness were so hazy that people got damaged in the limbo land that existed between the two states. Anything can be justified--anyone can form an argument. Anyone can create a thesis and defend a thesis. But just because we can do something doesn't mean we should do something. There are real lives that get hurt along the way.
A statement released by Yale this evening:
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.
But it doesn't violate basic ethical standards to fuck with people's heads?
This still doesn't clear up the original point that was upsetting me so deeply--that there are professors who guided this project and others in academia condoning this. And frankly, as much as I believe in free speech, I don't believe in the right to intentionally emotionally hurt other people. There is a difference between speaking your mind and possibly hurting someone with your words and outright lying to push emotional buttons.And perhaps it is because I left academia over an incident where someone was pushing emotional buttons that it brought out a very raw, internal scream. I had been saving my disgust for the way my own university processed events and condoned behaviour. It has certainly expanded today.
Nope, turns out that she simply lied to Yale and is now "disputing their claim." I always thought academia was about discovering truths...not creating lies.
But thank you for this:
But Shvarts reiterated Thursday that she repeatedly use a needleless syringe to insert semen into herself. At the end of her menstrual cycle, she took abortifacient herbs to induce bleeding, she said. She said she does not know whether or not she was ever pregnant.
“No one can say with 100-percent certainty that anything in the piece did or did not happen,” Shvarts said, “because the nature of the piece is that it did not consist of certainties.”
The abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America also condemned the exhibition in a written statement e-mailed to the News on Thursday.
“This ‘project’ is offensive and insensitive to the women who have suffered the heartbreak of miscarriage,” said Ted Miller, a spokesman for the organization.