Aliza Shvarts’s Art of Aborting: Queer Conceptions and Resistance to Reproductive Futurism
Ana Grahovac is currently a second-year student of the MA in Gender, Media, and Culture at Goldsmiths College, University of London. She is also a contemporary art curator at CUNTemporary, a not-for-profit organisation set up to explore feminist and queer art practices and theories. At CUNTemporary, they facilitate and curate projects in response to the lack of visibility and the difficulties in presenting such work within mainstream media and institutions. Through CUNTemporary, she has curated and contributed to a number of projects engaging with feminist art and queer theory. This includes her recent contribution to the symposium 'Performing Porn (after the computer became boring)', organised by the Centre for Contemporary and Digital Performance at Brunel University, where she presented a paper on post-porn politics and art. She is currently negotiating the publication of this paper with Arcadia Missa Publications. At the moment, she is working on CUNTemporary's next exhibition on fetish and camp aesthetics. Her research interests have revolved around topics of queer temporalities, queer rage, and the exploration of new relational modes of bodies and pleasures freed from epistemological and ego-driven impulses to master 'the other'.
In April 2008, the Yale Daily News published an article introducing Yale University fine arts student Aliza Shvarts's senior undergraduate art project. In the article, Shvarts announced that as part of her project she had been privately artificially inseminating herself every month during a nine-month period, and performing self-induced miscarriages by ingesting abortifacient drugs each month. The announcement ignited a national controversy, sparking university protests and 'pro-life' outcries across internet communities. Ultimately, the Yale School of Art banned the project from being exhibited. No feminist made an immediate defence of Shvarts's work. Through an in-depth exploration of Shvarts's art project, this essay aims to critically interrogate the politics of reproduction and the rhetoric of futurity in relation to a woman's social and symbolic positioning in a culture that places heterosexual reproduction and the institution of family at the heart of future. I argue that Shvarts's project was an attempt to explore how art could be a means to empty the realm of femininity of its symbolic 'function' within a patriarchal order. By means of her radical refusal of reproduction, manifested in a series of repeated abortions, she staged a resistance to the patriarchal symbolic positioning of a woman – the positioning within which a woman's life is intelligible insofar as it follows the pre-determined reproductive narrative of 'natural' womanhood (birth, marriage, motherhood and death) – so that a multitude of new narratives and possibilities could be birthed. I argue that Shvarts is the author of the possibility for imagining the future that is not mapped in advance for a woman – the future in which she is not an 'object' of reproduction but an 'author'. Drawing on Jack J. Halberstam's concept of shadow feminism and Lee Edelman's reproductive futurism, I will also suggest that Shvarts's performance provides an invaluable reflection on the queer and feminist politics of negativity. This is the politics that is against assimilation into a heteronormative social order, ideological naturalisation of a woman's body, and a vision of the future as something always bound up with linear descendancy.