Sacrificing health for art

I realize art is, of course, subjective. I know what I like; sometimes I can explain why, and sometimes I'm not sure what it is about a piece that draws me to it. Certainly good art evokes emotion and can stir controversy and push limits. And like the notorious virgin Mary/elephant dung uproar, an undergrad at Yale has recently caused quite a stir with her own senior art project:

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.

More after the jump...

From a health standpoint, and regardless of any of the value of the art, this is pretty atrocious. I get the whole "suffering for your art" idea, but purposely getting pregnant, then taking herbal abortifacients (which can vary in effectiveness and side effects) is, from my point of view, pretty frackin' stupid.

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.

Because of the extremity of her project, she's actually served to unite both those who are pro-choice and anti-abortion in speaking out against her project, with one student noting that it "turns what is a serious decision for women into an absurdism" and discounts the gravity of the situation that is abortion." I'll add that, though Sharvts notes the project has made her "increasingly comfortable discussing her miscarriage experiences with her peers," the fact that she became pregnant and then induced abortion repeatedly in the manner she did minimizes the incredible sense of loss that women who have spontaneous miscarriages feel as well--so is this really bringing about the debate she was looking for?

Though she says she didn't do this for "shock value," it seems that at least one critic claims this type of art is "...the safest kind of art than an artist can go into the business of making today." Certainly Shvarts' work has gotten more attention that those of her peers, if nothing else.

[ETA: hmm, interesting. After writing a guest column insisting her project was real, the University says Shvarts has flip-flopped and says it's a work of fiction. Shvarts denies such an admission, and Yale won't allow it to be displayed without the disclaimer that it's fake. Still developing...]


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A more recent article in the Chicago Tribune suggests this may be a hoax, but it does seem as if Yale isn't entirely sure of that, as they are requiring the student to prove the installation is fiction or they won't allow it. Some discussion (from a different point of view) at

It seems like there is a lot of hyperbole on her part. Even if she really artificially inseminated herself each month, it's very unlikely that she became pregnant every cycle. That means that the herbs were really inducing menstruation, which only resulted in a miscarriage the fraction of the time she was actually pregnant. I guess it's not as controversy-worthy to have a sculpture made of menses, though.

regardless of the "truth" or whether these are abortions or menses, I think someone needs councling

Imagine trying to get that project through a proper human ethics committee? Not a chance in hell. Luckily it's 'arts' and harming humans is OK if it demonstrates a point (exactly what point is never clear).

And who would provide their sperm for that period of time for that purpose?

I hope it's a hoax too.

I realize that I do not appreciate some things that other people find as art. I also realize that expression can be a beautiful thing, even if I don't agree with it. But, I don't get this and I don't get taking the incredible health risks in doing this. I also think there are more effective ways to achieve her goal of sparking a discussion of art and the human body. Take for example, the cadavers that are on display right now in the Human Body exhibit. I also feel like this trivializes abortion/miscarriages, having known people that have experienced losing a child.

I think the starving of the dog in this story, was more appalling than the Yale exhibit. Regardless of how you feel about conception/life etc, the aborted fetuses did not feel pain and only the artist was in health danger. This dog suffered cruelly, was tantalized with food, and ultimately succumbed to hunger. This is unacceptable to me. I'd like to chain him up...

It's things like this that make me suspicious of the value of "performance art" in many cases. When I first heard about it reported as being a genuine project I just thought she was foolish for risking her health. But now with the flip-flopping, it seems more likely this is stirring up controversy just for the sake of stirring up controversy. "I'm not lying, I'm being artistic!" Meh, I say.

Roe V. Wade didn't uphold the right to be a fucking disgusting human being. Now in the days of the internet she'll be hard pressed to find a line of work after this. I mean seriously, even the most persistent pro-choicer would think that this woman is totally loon-balls. Would YOU hire her?

Amplexus, that's a good point and one which too few people really appreciate. I hope that while parents are educating their children about sex and drugs they also have a good talk about the permanence of one's online presence. Googling this gal in the future will reveal that she likes to shock people (while claiming it's not about "shock value", which seems disingenuous at best), is not trustworthy (contradicts herself quickly when it appears she could get in trouble), and has, at best, a rather callous regard for a very serious subject matter.

Now, rendering the subject matter absurd is not a new idea in art, and it does have a certain value. I wouldn't discount the installation purely because of that. Absurdity can "reset" our perceptions of a subject, though I find it works best when it makes us laugh rather than baffling us. In this case, I think what is really demonstrated is that this gal is not a very imaginative artist, if she must resort to things like this to get attention. Artistically, I find such stunts to be artistically lazy.

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 23 Apr 2008 #permalink


Sure I would hire her, if I felt she would be able to do the job required properly and effeciently. It would be silly to throw some one out of the running for choices that they make that do not impead their ability to do the job in anyway.

Personally, I dont care one way or another about the 'art'. I do how ever dislike the dishonesty on one, or both sides (her and the school)

WTF is right....

If you're uneasy going the People's Republic of Cara route*, you could just move the comments to an alternative "spewings from raving nuts" type area... Or if you want to be less polemical (can't imagine why you would), you could name the alternative area something a little more neutral like "People Who Disagree With Me".

Too bad there are no ethics committees in the art world that can stop an "experiment" like this in the twisted idea stage.

I'm sure the anti-abortion crowd will be delighted to be horrified over this in a very vocal way, and will try to generalize this with being pro-choice.