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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Absolutely Fascinating

posted by bitchphd
This story'll be everywhere by the end of the day: artist videotapes and displays self-induced miscarriages.
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.
My first thought was, "ha, finally the feminist strawwoman comes to life: someone who gets pregnant on purpose so she can have an abortion!"

But it's actually sort of an interesting project. I like the quoted responses from a couple of fellow students:
Sara Rahman ’09 said, in her opinion, Shvarts is abusing her constitutional right to do what she chooses with her body.

“[Shvarts’ exhibit] turns what is a serious decision for women into an absurdism,” Rahman said. “It discounts the gravity of the situation that is abortion.”

Jonathan Serrato . . . said he found the concept of the senior art project “surprising” and unethical.

“I feel that she’s manipulating life for the benefit of her art, and I definitely don’t support it,” Serrato said. “I think it’s morally wrong.”
Again, facile responses jump to mind: morally wrong art! "Abusing her constitutional right to do what she chooses with her body"! You could parse those statements for hours.

But really, it's a fairly basic kind of conceptual art piece. (Which isn't meant as a criticism of the artist; frankly, I'm a shitty art critic, especially of this conceptual stuff, so for all I know this is brilliant.) The artist is manipulating her body, recording the process, and presenting the recording and physical signs of that manipulation to an audience. What's the relationship between sign and symbol? What's the relationship between signifier and signified? What *is* signified? Etc. Etc.

And of course she's doing a piece that only a woman could do (okay, maybe not. But generally pregnancy is the province of women, for now). People tend to have pretty visceral reactions to art of this type (e.g.: "people probably shouldn't be mutilating themselves for the sake of art (and by 'probably' we mean 'absolutely')"), but I don't think it's a real stretch to say that a deliberate pregnancy/miscarriage piece is going to get way more than its fair share of attention. As, indeed, women's bodies in art have done pretty much since forever.

So there's that angle, as well. Not to mention the obvious "creation" resonance. The aesthetic object as "child" of the artist is a pretty well-worn trope; here Shvarts is bringing that metaphor to life (if you'll forgive my belaboring the point. Hah!). Is displaying the object somehow wounding to it, or to the artist? Is the creative process painful? Is it fully under one's control? Should it be? What happens when art's attempt to imitate life turns life itself into art?

I have to admit, the piece as described makes me uncomfortable. But I'm not sure that that's at all a bad thing. I'd probably give her an A.

Oh, and some advice to make sure her number's unlisted.

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