Aliza Shvarts

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Aliza Shvarts
Born1986 (1986)
EducationNew York University, Yale University, Whitney Independent Study Program
Known for
AwardsCreative Capital Art Writers Award

Aliza Shvarts (born 1986) is an artist and writer who works in performance, video, and installation.[1] Her art and writing explore queer and feminist understandings of reproduction and duration,[2] and use these themes to affirm abjection, failure, and "decreation". Simone Weil's idea of decreation has been described as "a mystical passage from the created to the uncreated"[3] and "a spiritual exercise of mystical passage: across a threshold, from created to uncreated".[4]

Shvarts' 2008 performance Untitled [Senior Thesis], 2008[5] was the center of the so-called Yale student abortion art controversy, generating an international debate.[6] The work explores ideas of fiction and doubt,[7] and engages feminist inquiries into the medical, political, and legal frameworks of gender and reproduction.[8]

Her subsequent works Non-consensual Collaborations (2012–ongoing) and How does it feel to be a fiction (2017) have expanded on such themes as consent, narrative, and doubt.[9] Shvarts holds a BA from Yale University, and is a PhD candidate in Performance Studies at New York University.[10][11]


In the spring of her senior year at Yale, Shvarts’s first major work, Untitled [Senior Thesis] (2008), was the center of an international debate around abortion.[8] The piece consisted of a "durational" (crudely translated as "extended time") performance of self-induced miscarriages,[12] and was intensely controversial, with criticism from mass media outlets and both anti-abortion and pro-choice political commentators.[7] Yale claimed that the project was a “creative fiction”[13] and requested that Shvarts submit an alternate thesis project in order to graduate.[14][15] The work has since been considered an important piece of feminist performance art. Theorist, Jennifer Doyle, notes that the performance “exposed the investments of a range of institutional systems in [the female] body as both a creative and reproductive system,” and wrote of the media controversy, “the content of the performance has expanded to include nearly all reaction to it.”[8] Art historian, Carrie Lambert Beatty, writes that the project’s “central point [is] that what we take as biological facts are constructed in language and ideology,” noting the different implications of calling Shvarts’s bleeding a period, a miscarriage, or an abortion.[1] Shvarts’s later artworks made using documentation of Untitled [Senior Thesis] have since been exhibited at Artspace, New Haven[16] and written about in Texte zur Kunst,[17] Mousse,[9] and Artforum.[18]

Shvarts continues to explore ideas surrounding gender, narrative, and truth in her performance Please Come Find Me (2012), in which she invited participants to ask her to do something they thought she'd never done before,[19] as well as Non-consensual Collaborations (2012–ongoing), in which she retroactively designates events and interactions not initially conceived as part of an artistic project as art[20] to explore the gendered dynamics of artistic collaboration.[18] Non-consensual Collaborations has been presented at the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics[21] and The 8th Floor, New York.[22]

In 2017, Shvarts further used digital communication and mass media to engage concepts of “truthiness” and “fake news" in How Does It Feel To Be A Fiction (2017), a viral email performance that explores the various ways in which people are read as fictional along lines of race, class, gender, and sexuality by systems of institutional power.[9][23] Originally commissioned by Recess’s Critical Writing Fellowship,[24] versions of How Does It Feel To Be A Fiction have been presented at the Universidad de Los Andes, Bogatá,[25] and Artspace, New Haven.[16]


Shvarts’s writing has appeared in TDR: The Drama Review,[26] The Feminist and Queer Information Studies Reader,[27] and The Brooklyn Rail.[28][29] She is on the advisory board of Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory,[30] where she has published a number of essays, including “Figuration and Failure, Performance and Pedagogy: Reflections Three Years Later,” which considers what it meant to be known for a piece that had, at the time, never been exhibited publicly.[31][5] She has given talks and lectures at Artists Space,[32] the Whitney Museum,[33][34] Harvard University,[35] and Abrons Arts Center,[36] among other institutions. In addition to her artistic and scholarly work, Shvarts has written liner notes for the drone metal band SunnO)))'s album Kannon[37] and appeared as a guest commentator on MTV.[38]


Shvarts’s work has been the subject of a solo exhibition at Artspace, New Haven, which occurred on the decade anniversary of Untitled [Senior Thesis] (2008) being censored by Yale.[16] She has also exhibited and performed at Abrons Art Center[39] and Lévy Gorvy[40] in New York; the Slought Foundation in Philadelphia;[41] and Performance Space [42] and the Tate Modern[43] in London, among other venues. She frequently designs stage sets for and performs with Carmelita Tropicana,[44] and has collaborated with Vaginal Davis,[45] Emma Sulkowicz,[22][46] and Critical Practices, Inc.[47]

Awards and fellowships[edit]

Shvarts was a 2017 Critical Writing Fellow at Recess, New York[24] and a 2014 recipient of the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant.[2][48] She attended the Whitney Independent Study Program as a Helena Rubinstein Fellow in Critical Studies in 2014 to 2015.[49]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Lambert-Beatty, Carrie (Summer 2009). "Make-Believe: Parafiction and Plausibility" (PDF). October (129): 51–84.
  2. ^ a b "Aliza Shvarts - Grantees". Arts Writers Grant Program. 2014. Retrieved 2018-05-30.
  3. ^ Marcus Boon and Gabriel Levine, “The Promise of Practice” in Documents of Contemporary Art: Practice (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2018), 21.
  4. ^ Robert, William (2005). "Decreation , or Saying Yes" (PDF). Epoché: The University of California Journal for the Study of Religion. 23 (1): 59–85. Retrieved 28 June 2018.
  5. ^ a b Hagen, Lisa Hall (4 April 2012). "A performance ethics of the 'real' abortive body: The case of Aliza Shvarts and 'Untitled [Senior Thesis], 2008'". Performing Ethos: International Journal of Ethics in Theatre and Performance. 2 (1): 21–39. doi:10.1386/peet.2.1.21_1. Retrieved 28 June 2018.
  6. ^ Finch, Charlie (12 May 2008). "Mission Aborted". ArtNet. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  7. ^ a b Schotzko, T. Nikki Cesare (2015). "Not yet finished, never yet begun: Aliza Shvarts, the girl from West Virginia, and the consequence of doubt". Learning how to fall: art and culture after September 11. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. pp. 99–128. ISBN 9781138796881. OCLC 890462461.
  8. ^ a b c Doyle, Jennifer (2013). "Three Case Studies in Difficulty and the Problem of Affect". Hold it against me: difficulty and emotion in contemporary art. Durham: Duke University Press. pp. 28–39. ISBN 9780822353027. OCLC 808216847.
  9. ^ a b c Vogel, Wendy (Summer 2018). "Going Viral: Aliza Shvarts's Daring Performance Work". Mousse. 64: 250.
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Aliza Shvarts on Being Banned and What We Have in Common (interview)". Impact Mania. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  12. ^ Shvarts, Aliza (18 April 2008). "Shvarts Explains Her 'Repeated Self-Induced Miscarriages'". Yale News. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  13. ^ Arenson, Karen W. (23 April 2008). "An Artwork at Yale May Not Be Real, but the Furor Is" – via
  14. ^ Kennedy, Randy (2008-04-22). "Yale Demands End to Student's Performance". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-05-30.
  15. ^ Gelder, Lawrence Van (2008-05-01). "Yale Students' New Art". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-05-30.
  16. ^ a b c "Aliza Shvarts: Off Scene May 11- June 30, 2018". Artspace New Haven. 2018. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  17. ^ Fusco, Coco (March 2018). "Learning the Rules of the Game: Art Without Rules?". Texte zur Kunst. 109: 108.
  18. ^ a b Olunkwa, Emmanuel (June 12, 2018). "Interviews: Aliza Shvarts talks about her exhibition at Artspace in New Haven, Connecticut". Artforum.
  19. ^ Schotzko, 124.
  20. ^ Kachel, Andrew (2017). "Aliza Shvarts". Out of Order. Summer: 260.
  21. ^ "Aliza Shvarts". Hemispheric Institute. Retrieved 2018-05-30.
  22. ^ a b "March 29: Consent/Dissent, a talk by Aliza Shvarts and Emma Sulkowicz". The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation. 24 March 2017. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  23. ^ Szymanek, Angelique (2018). "Aliza Shvarts: Material Fictions". Off-Scene. New Haven, CT: Artspace. pp. 3–7.
  24. ^ a b Shvarts, Aliza. "Aliza Shvarts: How Does it Feel to Be a Fiction?". Recess. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  25. ^ "(No) coma cuento Verdad y mentira al mismo tiempo (y en sentido contrario)". De Cabeza (in Spanish). 2017. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  26. ^ Shvarts, Aliza (1 June 2014). "The Con". TDR/The Drama Review. 58 (2): 2–3. doi:10.1162/dram_a_00342.
  27. ^ Keilty, Patrick; Dean, Rebecca (2013). Litwin Books, LLC : Feminist and Queer Information Studies Reader. Litwin Books, LLC. ISBN 978-1-936117-16-1. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  28. ^ Shvarts, Aliza (5 February 2015). "Black Wedding". The Brooklyn Rail. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  29. ^ Barron, Michael (1 December 2015). "How Sunn O)))'s Subversive Metal Birthed An Album With A Buddhist Heart". The Fader. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  30. ^ "About the Journal". Women & Performance. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  31. ^ Shvarts, Aliza (March 2011). "Figuration and Failure, Pedagogy and Performance: Reflections Three Years Later" (PDF). Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory. 21 (1): 155–162. doi:10.1080/0740770X.2011.563047.
  32. ^ "In the Last Instance". Artists Space. 2017. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  33. ^ "Critical Utopianism from Yoko Ono to Jimmie Durham - Whitney Museum of American Art". Whitney Museum of American Art. 2017. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  34. ^ "Learning Series Lecture: Participation/ Occupation/ Belonging - Whitney Museum of American Art". Whitney Museum of American Art. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  35. ^ "ARTS@DRCLAS/ HAA/ VES Series: Prosthetic Realities Programming". David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies. Harvard University. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  36. ^ "Queens of Welfare / Pawns of Capital: ReframingWelfare Debates Through Archives, Public Discussions and Brunch". Abrons Arts Center. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  37. ^ Bakare, Lanre (3 December 2015). "Sunn O))): Kannon review – daunting but oddly relaxing drone-metal". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  38. ^ "Performance Artist Aliza Shvarts Comments On Kayne West's 'Runaway' (Video Clip) - MTV". MTV. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  39. ^ "Subject to Capital". Abrons Arts Center. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  40. ^ "Karin Schneider". Lévy Gorvy Gallery. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  41. ^ "Emergent Perspectives". Slought. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  42. ^ "April 2015: Directing Actions". Performance Space. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  43. ^ Abrahamson, Zachary; Kaplan, Thomas (26 June 2008). "Shvarts to present new piece at Tate Modern". Yale News. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  44. ^ McHugh, Kathleen (2013). "Bio-Performatives, Cross-Species, and Continents of Plastic in Chicas 2000 and Post Plastica: An Interview with Carmelita Tropicana and Ela Troyano". S&F Online. Barnard Center for Research on Women. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  45. ^ Auder, Michel; Stickrod, Michael (2015). "The Magic Flute, Part Two: A Film in Pieces - 80 Washington Square East Galleries - NYU Steinhardt". Steinhardt. NYU. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  46. ^ "Emma Sulkowicz with Kang Kang". The Brooklyn Rail. 1 May 2017. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  47. ^ "About Us". Critical Practices Inc. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  48. ^ "2014 Warhol Arts Writers Grants Announced". ArtForum. 4 December 2014. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  49. ^ "Whitney Independent Study Program Critical Studies Symposium: Critical Perspectives on Visual Culture - Whitney Museum of American Art". Whitney Museum of American Art. Retrieved 30 May 2018.

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