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The Work Of Art In The Age Of Mechanical Reproduction

If you hadn’t heard, the senior thesis of Yale art major Aliza Shvarts was going to destroy our civilization. Shvarts told the Yale Daily News Thursday that in the last nine months, she artificially inseminated herself “repeatedly,” terminating each resultant pregnancy using abortifacient drugs. She supposedly documented this process on a film that was to be displayed, alongside the miscarriages themselves, in Yale’s Green Hall next week.

The story was quickly Drudged into a mushroom cloud of American cultural conflict. Look at all of these pissed-off people. The rub, courtesy of Shvarts' patriarchal overlords at Yale:

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.

Touche, Aliza. Though I must say I’m a little disappointed. Shvartz’s stunt was obviously outside the bounds of conventional discourse on reproductive rights. But after going through the intended stages of grief (suppressing nausea, condemning the act as conceptually lazy, pondering free speech, and the horror of seeing a woman casually exploit privilege), I was still mulling over whether to cast the scarlet A.

As pure provocation, it engages the academic and the aesthetic. But ironically, I felt Shvarts’ proposed performance did not implicate the right to choose at all. A concern for safety and for privacy are key tentpoles of abortion-rights jurisprudence. This act, both unsafe in execution and spectacular in design, had loudly excused itself from the prevailing rationale for the right to have an abortion. I supposed Shvarts’ behavior wouldn’t quell the perception that abortions are for privileged, irreligious women (they’re not), but her flagrant violation of reproductive ethics (and law and logic) could be a convenient defense against the mounted hordes decrying “abortion on demand.”

But as art, it likewise failed. Some people feel that autonomy itself justifies art; I disagree. Compelling 20th century notions of aesthetics also require singularity, and Shvarts’s gambit would have provided none--idly relying on a “talent” shared with half the human population. And her bumbling explanation of the “real” project, released Friday, added nothing to its aesthetic or intellectual worth.

A sculptor friend at Yale once dug a tunnel out of her studio in secret as her own "subversive" final project. It’s a shame that Shvarts’ obvious interest in reproductive freedoms couldn't find an equally wry, yet workable outlet--and that it doesn’t include a respect for the significance of pregnancy, parenthood, or restraint.

--Dayo Olopade