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A performance ethics of the 'real' abortive body: The case of Aliza Shvarts and 'Untitled [Senior Thesis], 2008'

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In 2008 Aliza Shvarts, a senior at Yale University, proposed and executed a thesis project for her undergraduate art major. She artificially inseminated herself repeatedly over the course of nine months, then self-induced a miscarriage on the 28th day of her cycle using herbal abortifacients. She planned to project video of her miscarriages (filmed alone in a bathtub) onto the sides of a large cube, with blood from the miscarriages suspended under its surface. When word spread on the nature of her project, Shvarts was faced with a powerful furore from Yale, the media and the national public. 'Untitled [Senior Thesis], 2008' was never shown in public. This article considers how realness and visibility can define a performance ethics of the abortive body. Performing an abortion narrative within the confines of traditional performance does not necessarily provoke any discussion of ethical performance. However, by bringing in her own body and the question of 'realness', Shvarts's piece entered that realm. She disrupted perceptions of ethics in performance by enacting a bodily speech that took for its language a process normatively defined within a cultural code of moral permissibility.
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Keywords: Aliza Shvarts; abortion; failure; figuration; performance; real

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Utah Valley University

Publication date: 04 March 2011

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  • Performing Ethos is a refereed, interdisciplinary journal which considers ethical questions relating to contemporary theatre and live performance. Global in scope, it provides a unique forum for rigorous scholarship and serious reflection on the ethical dimensions of a wide range of performance practices from the politically and aesthetically radical to the mainstream.
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