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Idol Chatter

American author Fran Lebowitz once noted that “Very few people possess true artistic ability. It is therefore both unseemly and unproductive to irritate the situation by making an effort. If you have a burning, restless urge to write or paint, simply eat something sweet and the feeling will pass.” After reading about Yale undergraduate Aliza Shvarts’ admission that her senior art project—which supposedly consisted of video of self-insemination and induction of multiple miscarriages— is a hoax, well, all I have to say is, Ms. Shvarts it’s time to eat something sweet.
Yesterday the Yale Daily News, reported that Shvarts’ entry into the Undergraduate Senior Art Show would include “video recordings of these forced miscarriages as well as preserved collections of the blood from the process.” Shvarts told the paper that she was engaging in the macabre cycle not for “shock value,” but to “inspire some sort of discourse.” As one very astute friend of mine put it, “Isn’t that art-world speak for ‘I want to be famous?'”


The answer seems to be an unmitigated “yes” as the New York Times reported this morning that the whole exhibit is merely a piece of performance art. “Ms. Shvarts did not impregnate herself,” a spokeswoman from Yale said. “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.”
Now, I will defend an artist’s right to be provocative, but what we have here is an endeavor that smacks of immaturity and self-aggrandizement; a young artist attempting to create art for the sake of argument, trying to be taken seriously as an artist. (Hey, she got coverage in the Times’ Art section.) Not only is she belittling the traumatic experience of women who have suffered miscarriages, but those who have had to make the grave decision to terminate a pregnancy and the very hard-won right to do so.
In fact, I can’t decide which is worse, actually having gone through with the actual inseminations and miscarriages, or feigning sisterhood with those woman who have experienced such trauma.
Shvarts’ performance art makes a farce of not only a woman’s right to choose, but the integrity of art itself. Travelling back through recent controversial works of art, there is a clear pattern of intent: Chris Ofili’s “The Holy Virgin Mary,” with cherubim crafted of varnished elephant dung, referenced the sacred nature of the elephant in the African culture of Ofili’s heritage; and even Sister Wendy found value in the scandalous “Piss Christ,” telling Bill Moyers that it represents “the way contemporary society has come to regard Christ and the values he represents.”
But what is Shvarts trying to say? Even if there was a clear message, could it be heard above the din caused by the bizarre and ethically questionable nature of the project?
Shvarts’ assertion that her work will spark some kind of grand dialogue is laughable. Yes, people will be talking about it, but not in a truly constructive way that will add to the national debate about the politics of women’s bodies; but in an “Oh my God, that is sooo wrong” mouth wide open kind of way. I can’t imagine that very many people, Pro-Choice or Pro-Art, would be willing to defend such a seemingly selfish and politically naive effort which only stands to further irritate (As Ms. Lebowitz might say) the already fractious and volatile debate surrounding women’s bodies in America.
Ms. Shvarts, go find some sweets.
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Update:
It seems that, Ms. Shvats is now rebutting Yale’s statement, calling it “ultimately inaccurate.
The senior claims that that she did attempt to inseminate herself and that at the completion of her mentrual cycle, she took abortifacient herbs. She admits that she never knew if she was actually pregnant (highly unlikley give the turkey-basterish methods she used), but showed the Yale Daily News tapes depicting herself “— sometimes naked, sometimes clothed — alone in a shower stall bleeding into a cup.”
“No one can say with 100-percent certainty that anything in the piece did or did not happen,” Shvarts told the News, “because the nature of the piece is that it did not consist of certainties.” But I would argue that there are certanties in this piece; I am certain that Ms. Shvarts has taken things too far.
Earlier Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky had said that, “Had these acts been real, they would have violated basic ethical standards and raised serious mental and physical health concerns.” In my mind, Ms. Shvarts’ refusal to cease the charade and come clean about the project raises just as many concerns.

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