Behind every Yale art major, there is an adviser.
With the recent media coverage about Aliza Shvarts ’08 and her incendiary senior art project, Pia Lindman, a little-known lecturer at the School of Art, has been thrust into the spotlight. But the attention was not wholly unfamiliar to the performance artist, who has raised eyebrows with provocative performances of her own in recent years.
From building a working public outdoor sauna in New York City — nudity encouraged — to recording herself emulating the grief-stricken expressions of suffering war victims, Lindman just may have the resume to have counseled Shvarts in a project as provocative as documentation of purported artificial insemination and self-induced miscarriages.
Lindman is in her first year working as a lecturer at the School of Art, but whether she will continue in that post is uncertain. The University announced Sunday that it had taken “appropriate action” against two individuals who had overseen Shvarts’ project. One of them is believed to be Lindman, whom Shvarts said had approved and supported her project over its nine-month development.
Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said Friday he was “appalled” at Shvarts’ project. But based on how Lindman described herself on a Web site about her work, the planned art installation may not have been much out of the ordinary.
“My art practice evolves around the themes of social context and space, as well as the performative aspect of making and experiencing art,” Lindman wrote. “Most recently, three forms of practice have distinctly emerged: video, drawing and something I call ‘social engineering.’ ”
Lindman has not commented publicly since the news of Shvarts’ project spread across campus — and beyond — last week, and calls to a cellular telephone listed under Lindman’s name were not answered this weekend. When a News reporter knocked on the door of her Lower East Side apartment in New York City on Saturday, no one answered.
The lecturer, who was born in Espoo, Finland, in 1965 and came to the United States on a Fulbright scholarship to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has been an active member of New York’s artistic milieu with works hanging in The Museum of Modern Art and at the Luxe Gallery, a cutting-edge collection in downtown Manhattan. She has been a lecturer at MIT and has garnered attention for her ability to bridge a link between art and social science using her work as a catalyst for discussion about issues of controversy like nudity and trauma.
As the Shvarts piece has snowballed into a debate about freedom of artistic expression, Lindman’s history has delineated where she stands on the issue. In a personal statement on a Web site about one of her most recent performances — a soapbox event intended to generate expressive discourse by offering participants minute-long bursts of grandstanding — Lindman took a stance against censorship in the media.
“Public media has been practicing vigilant self-censorship ever since [Sept. 11, 2001] — in my opinion, a very irresponsible choice,” Lindman said. “I am still waiting for this self-aggrandizing mass psychosis; the uncritical belief in the omnipotence and goodness of the American people, troops and government, to dissolve and have it replaced with sober self-reflection.”
Whether or not Shvarts will be able to show her piece remains to be seen; the University said Sunday that unless she confesses in writing that her art project was a “fiction,” she will not be permitted to install her work or show it at its scheduled opening Tuesday. But some students — not to mention faculty members and higher-education experts — have begun to move beyond the initial shock of Shvarts’ work to question how her project was allowed to develop in the first place.
Anne Neal, the president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, told the Chronicle of Higher Education that the entire imbroglio raised questions about academic oversight and the judgment of the professors with whom Shvarts worked.
“Yale ought to be focusing not on Shvarts, but on the institutional framework that [she claims, at least] approved and supported this project,” Neal said.
—Isaac Arnsdorf contributed reporting from New York City.