The artist at the time of her high school graduation
Helaine S. Klasky, Yale University Spokesperson, raised some interesting issues in the administration’s statement denying the reality of that naughty Aliza Schvarts’ senior art project:
(Yale now has at least one Spokesperson, forsooth! Demonstrating that the current president and his entire skulk of deans are too self-important, or know themselves to be too inarticulate, to speak for the University. Jesus wept.)
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 Ms. Schvarts fired back a manifesto, repeating the story of her project, and artfully identifying it as “myth,” while darkly hinting at a purpose and meaning capable of shaking the Yale art department and the University’s administration to their very foundations.
For the past year, I performed repeated self-induced miscarriages. …
To protect myself and others, only I know the number of fabricators (Note the term -JDZ) who participated, the frequency and accuracy with which I inseminated and the specific abortifacient I used. Because of these measures of privacy, the piece exists only in its telling. This telling can take textual, visual, spatial, temporal and performative forms . copies of copies of which there is no original. …
The artwork exists as the verbal narrative you see above, as an installation that will take place in Green Hall, as a time-based performance, as a independent concept, as a myth and as a public discourse.
In other words: the supposed piece of art never existed at all, except as a concept, a narrative, and a spoof.
Then, embedded in more jargon, Schvarts delivers the ultimate ambiguity.
Is she spouting a bunch of ridiculous leftwing cant, or is she producing what looks like a classic example of the genre in order to mock and satirize it? Is Aliza Schvartz possibly really a nice, ethically-concerned Jewish girl, taking a shrewd whack at the conventional liberal consensus on sex, reproduction, and abortion in the contemporary elite university with a vicious parody of the methodology and hermeneutics of fashionably politicized “art?”
It creates an ambiguity that isolates the locus of ontology to an act of readership. An intentional ambiguity pervades both the act and the objects I produced in relation to it. The performance exists only as I chose to represent it. … This central ambiguity defies a clear definition of the act. The reality of miscarriage is very much a linguistic and political reality, an act of reading constructed by an act of naming . an authorial act.
It is the intention of this piece to destabilize the locus of that authorial act, and in doing so, reclaim it from the heteronormative structures that seek to naturalize it.
As an intervention into our normative understanding of .the real. and its accompanying politics of convention, this performance piece has numerous conceptual goals. The first is to assert that often, normative understandings of biological function are a mythology imposed on form. It is this mythology that creates the sexist, racist, ableist, nationalist and homophobic perspective, distinguishing what body parts are .meant. to do from their physical capability. The myth that a certain set of functions are .natural. (while all the other potential functions are .unnatural.) undermines that sense of capability, confining lifestyle choices to the bounds of normatively defined narratives.
Just as it is a myth that women are .meant. to be feminine and men masculine, that penises and vaginas are .meant. for penetrative heterosexual sex (or that mouths, anuses, breasts, feet or leather, silicone, vinyl, rubber, or metal implements are not .meant. for sex at all), it is a myth that ovaries and a uterus are .meant. to birth a child.
When considering my own bodily form, I recognize its potential as extending beyond its ability to participate in a normative function. While my organs are capable of engaging with the narrative of reproduction . the time-based linkage of discrete events from conception to birth . the realm of capability extends beyond the bounds of that specific narrative chain. These organs can do other things, can have other purposes, and it is the prerogative of every individual to acknowledge and explore this wide realm of capability.
Roger Kimball, at PJM, notes that Ms. Schvartz’s “art” has successfully challenged some orthodoxies, and recognizes that the question is exactly which ones?
Yaleâ€™s response was a masterpiece of evasion. â€œHad these acts been real,â€ their statement continued, â€œthey would have violated basic ethical standards and raised serious mental and physical health concerns.â€ You donâ€™t say?… And what, by the way, was the standard being violated? I wonder, for example, whether the Yale spokesman would say that abortion itself violated a basic ethical standard? Or maybe the violation requires first deliberately impregnating oneself? (But why would that affect the â€œbasic ethical standardâ€ involved?) Or maybe it was videotaping the performance that was the problem?
I know that in the universe occupied by Ivy League academics, the spectacle of a woman repeatedly inseminating herself, quaffing abortifacient drugs (â€œherbalâ€ ones, though: weâ€™re all organic environmentalists here), and then video taping the resultant mess poses a problem. I mean, in that universe there really are basic ethical standards: Thou shalt not smoke, for example. Thou shalt not support the war in Iraq. Thou shalt not vote Republican. There really are some things that are beyond the pale. …
Why do so many people feel that if something is regarded as art, they â€œhave to go along with it,â€ no matter how offensive it might be? Perhapsâ€”just possiblyâ€”Aliza Shvarts has reminded us how untrue that statement is. If so, we are in her debt.
James Taranto, too, at the Wall Street Journal, sees the ironic possibilities.
When Yale says that Shvarts’s project, “if real,” violates “basic ethical standards,” what kind of ethical standards does it have in mind?
It seems unlikely that Yale is making a moral claim against the putative Shvarts project. The abortion debate is driven by two irreconcilable moral premises: on the antiabortion side, that it is wrong to take a human life deliberately at any stage of development; on the pro-abortion side, that a woman has a right to do whatever she wants with her body.
In practice, most people’s actual positions on abortion amount to a compromise between these two absolutes. If Yale has an institutional view on abortion, surely it is closer to the pro- than the antiabortion side. And if Shvarts did what she claims to have done, she destroyed protohumans (for want of a better neutral term) no later than the embryonic stage of development–a stage at which, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, a woman has an absolute “constitutional” right to terminate her pregnancy.
Is Yale claiming that Shvarts violated academic ethics? This is a real head-scratcher. Academic ethics center on honesty; the most important prohibitions are against such actions as falsification of data or plagiarism (misrepresenting another’s work as one’s own). But Yale is claiming that Shvarts’s project violated “basic ethical standards” if she was honest in describing it. If Shvarts perpetrated a hoax, then according to Yale she was exercising “the right to express herself.” The implication is that if she was lying, she was behaving ethically.
Yale therefore is either taking a moral position in opposition to abortion or standing academic ethics on their head. Which raises an intriguing possibility: Could it be that Aliza Shvarts is an opponent of abortion who has staged a hoax aimed at embarrassing those who support or countenance abortion?