For the past year, I performed repeated self-induced miscarriages. I created a group of fabricators from volunteers who submitted to periodic STD screenings and agreed to their complete and permanent anonymity. From the 9th to the 15th day of my menstrual cycle, the fabricators would provide me with sperm samples, which I used to privately self-inseminate. Using a needleless syringe, I would inject the sperm near my cervix within 30 minutes of its collection, so as to insure the possibility of fertilization. On the 28th day of my cycle, I would ingest an abortifacient, after which I would experience cramps and heavy bleeding.
To protect myself and others, only I know the number of fabricators 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.
This piece — in its textual and sculptural forms — is meant to call into question the relationship between form and function as they converge on the body. 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.
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. For me, the most poignant aspect of this representation — the part most meaningful in terms of its political agenda (and, incidentally, the aspect that has not been discussed thus far) — is the impossibility of accurately identifying the resulting blood. Because the miscarriages coincide with the expected date of menstruation (the 28th day of my cycle), it remains ambiguous whether the there was ever a fertilized ovum or not. The reality of the pregnancy, both for myself and for the audience, is a matter of reading.
This ambivalence makes obvious how the act of identification or naming — the act of ascribing a word to something physical — is at its heart an ideological act, an act that literally has the power to construct bodies. In a sense, the act of conception occurs when the viewer assigns the term “miscarriage” or “period” to that blood.
In some sense, neither term is exactly accurate or inaccurate; the ambiguity is not merely a matter of context, but is embodied in the physicality of the object. 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.
Aliza Shvarts is a senior in Davenport College.