Abortion as Art

Yale undergraduate Aliza Shvarts' senior art project has created a little bit of controversy. She has apparently created "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." That's just lovely. (Already posted by whoeverur in the forum, but so bizarre it warrants being on the front page.)

Shvarts insists that her project was not designed for "shock value." Funny. I would have thought it was designed precisely for shock value.

She also says that "she was not concerned about any medical effects the forced miscarriages may have had on her body. The abortifacient drugs she took were legal and herbal, she said, and she did not feel the need to consult a doctor about her repeated miscarriages." I'm always puzzled about why people think that just because a drug is "herbal" it can't possibly be harmful.

The final display of the project will be like something out of a horror movie:

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.

As word of Schvarts' project got around, Yale hurriedly released a statement assuring everyone that it was all just "creative fiction":

“Ms. Shvarts is engaged in performance art. 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,” a Yale spokeswoman, Helaine Klasky, said in a statement sent by e-mail to reporters. “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.”

But according to a follow-up report in the Yale Daily News, Sharvarts is still insisting that she really did what she initially claimed:

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.”

My hunch is that Shvarts probably did conduct her bizarre project. But who can say for sure? Creating doubt seems to be the basic point of her project.

There's a long history of hoaxes and "art projects" involving reproduction, which is why I devoted an entire chapter to that subject in Hippo Eats Dwarf. The two that remind me most of Shvarts' project are Mary Toft, the woman who gave birth to rabbits, and Chrissy Caviar, the performance artist who claimed she harvested the eggs from her body and sold them as food.

Art Birth/Babies

Posted on Fri Apr 18, 2008


"I'm always puzzled about why people think that just because a drug is "herbal" it can't possibly be harmful."

I had a friend back in the 80s who would favor shrooms over LSD because mushrooms were "natural." I told him that mercury is also natural but I wouldn't be drinking it anytime soon.
Posted by Ima Fish  on  Fri Apr 18, 2008  at  02:06 PM
It's ridiculous the things people will do these days for attention and the chance to be called controversial. Lord knows she didn't really go through with what she said she did, and rather than being viewed as artistic, instead she's defamed as inhumane and needlessly grotesque. The situation just doesn't work out for her. Either she's completely lying in an effort to be edgy, or has really done something as disgusting and utterly ridiculous as she insists she has and will hear nothing but bad things from it. Stupid.
Posted by Aryn  on  Fri Apr 18, 2008  at  03:14 PM
I was at art school in the UK in the early 80s. At the degree show (the final exhibition of work, on which the BA degree is awarded)one student showed photographs of himself being circumcised. There was also a vogue for women artists, in particular, using their bodies and bodily functions in art. So I don't think that the alleged acts are implausible. But I would say that this sort of thing is extremely dated now - and there's nobody so conscious of what's in vogue as an art student. It might well strike a student as cleverer (i.e. more pretentious) and more post-modern (i.e. even more pretentious) to fake the whole thing - provided the fake was revealed at some point.
Posted by Mr Henderson  in  London UK  on  Fri Apr 18, 2008  at  04:44 PM
I just read the article on msnbc and was going to forward the link to Alex, but he got the story before me - of course. For those interested in what was reported in the msnbc article the link is:

The claims and counter-claims between the school and the student make me wonder which of them is crazy.
Posted by Christopher Cole  in  Tucson, AZ  on  Fri Apr 18, 2008  at  05:12 PM
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Fri Apr 18, 2008  at  06:53 PM
Makes the average person think the whole "art" world is nothing but a bunch of SICK freaks - and they are...
Posted by Christopher  in  Warm, sunny Florida...  on  Fri Apr 18, 2008  at  08:52 PM
Imagine having that for a girlfriend.... *shudders*
Posted by LaMa  in  Europe  on  Sat Apr 19, 2008  at  04:59 AM
Found this today on about.com - here's a TinyURL to the site: http://tinyurl.com/5s3edy. It would appear that it was indeed a hoax.
Posted by kraftwerk  in  Sussex, UK  on  Sat Apr 19, 2008  at  09:16 AM
no, this is too sad. I can not go here. Talk to my hand, meezy heezomey. I go to talk to the moon. Have it your self, right? Rrrraoooooooooul
Posted by Raoul  on  Sat Apr 19, 2008  at  11:38 PM
Um. Yeah. Shock Value. I hate artists who confuse the noteriety they get from shocking people with actual real adulation.
Posted by Robin Bobcat  in  Californian Wierdo  on  Sun Apr 20, 2008  at  10:17 AM
Sounds like something straight out of the Grand Guignol.
Posted by pinkgummiworms  on  Sun Apr 20, 2008  at  11:23 AM
That's absolutely disgusting. If that was for shock value, she already has me on the verge of barfing.
Posted by C-Minor  on  Sun Apr 20, 2008  at  10:18 PM
"I'm always puzzled about why people think that just because a drug is "herbal" it can't possibly be harmful."

Yes, Socrates, for example, would disagree with this theory.
Posted by Big Gary  in  Progreso, Texas  on  Mon Apr 21, 2008  at  04:03 PM
No Big Gary, Socrates would not disagree with that theory - he would question the hypothesis.
Posted by Christopher Cole  in  Tucson, AZ  on  Mon Apr 21, 2008  at  06:13 PM
Isn't art supposed to last beyond the 'fifteen minutes of fame' this piece will get? Everyone's disgusted with it now, but it'll be forgotten in 5 years time, and in ten years the closest she will get to be an artist is handing out the colouring sheets at MacDonalds (or Burger King if she's really lucky). Isn't anyone interested in actually creating real art, and not just grabbing the headlines, any more?
Posted by Nona  on  Tue Apr 22, 2008  at  05:29 AM
Commenting is no longer available in this channel entry.