How does a student create a senior art project that takes less than 12 hours to gain international attention?
Ask Yale art major Aliza Shvarts, whose press release of her project was picked up by the Washington Post and London’s Daily Telegraph Thursday evening shortly after its publication in the Yale Daily News that morning.
According to the artist’s statement, Shvarts used a needle-less syringe to artificially inseminate herself, and then took abortifacient drugs to induce bleeding. She said she repeated this over the course of nine months, documenting the process by video and preserving the blood.
Hours after Shvarts’ press release, Yale University issued a statement calling her entire piece a “creative fiction.” The university alleges that before beginning her project, Shvarts had agreed to refrain from actually inseminating herself.
In response, Shvarts defended her claim, calling the university’s statement “ultimately inaccurate” in an interview with the Yale Daily News.
Discussion over the contentious alleged project persisted at Harvard throughout the weekend.
“It was weird and disturbing. I was almost cringing as I was reading it,” Ashoke R. Khanwalkar ’09 said. “It seemed like it was senselessly making light of what is a major issue for many people.”
The idea of harming one’s body for the sake of performance art is not unheard of in the art community, according to Carrie Lambert-Beatty, assistant professor of History of Art and Architecture and of Visual and Environmental Studies (VES) at Harvard.
“What makes [Shvarts’ project] so provocative is the idea that she was impregnated,” she said. “What is also interesting about any art project is the ripple of reaction that comes from it. To me, the project included all the reactions it generated.”
But some VES concentrators, like Intiya Isaza-Figueroa ’10, questioned this method of generating response to one’s artistic work.
“Art in college is an academic pursuit, and should conform to academic, moral, and ethical standards,” Isaza-Figueroa said. “What she did was not mentally or physically healthy, for her or the people around her.”
Yale students expressed surprise and disgust at Shvarts’ mode of artistic expression.
“My initial reaction was on par with everyone else’s,” said Yale freshman Laura Gonzales. “I was appalled and shocked. Both sides of the abortion debate are against it.”
Uncertainty about the facts of Shvarts’ project has created a divided campus at Yale.
“Now that the campus has had a few days to think about it, there is no consensus on the project,” Gonzalez said. “No one knows if it is real or not.”