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May 14, 2008 / beidson

Bloody Art Sends Wrong and Right Message

Yale University senior Aliza Shvarts wants to start a conversation.  The topic of discussion: her own blood.  What’s the point?  Art.  But this is not simply a matter of artistic expression; it’s a matter of life and death.  Shvarts claims that her bloody art was created by the blood of her own miscarriages, which she forced upon herself, after intentionally impregnating herself for this very reason.  Whether or not she actually had miscarriages has not been verified, but her point is clear: people pay attention to blood.

And Shvarts isn’t the only artist using blood to send a message.  Other aspiring artists are equally as bloody in their quest to start conversations.  German artist Gregor Schneider is seeking terminally ill patients to create his next exhibit, and Costa Rican artist Guillermo Vargas recently exhibited a starving dog who was chained just out of reach of food.  These deathly exhibitions are inherently linked to blood, which is the entire point of the displays.  Speak with blood, and people will listen.

But exactly what sort of conversation are these artists hoping to start?  Conversations about life and death; meaning and meaninglessness; boundaries and taboos?  What Schvarts and artists like her have realized is that blood is louder than life, but what they may not realize is the reason why this is so.  Blood isn’t merely physiological; it is, most of all, theological, and that is why people listen when blood speaks.

Beyond the indencency of these exhibitions, what we ought to see when we look at such things is the reality of blood and death in our world.  Whether we are spilling blood in war or using blood to create crude art, the truth is that all blood is shed because of sin.  And blood always speaks.  Though Schvarts may be mediating death through blood, we must remember that God, in Christ, has given life to us through the blood of his Son, Jesus Christ.  The gospel is ultimately the message mediated through blood.

The death of artist Pippa Bacca is an example of the compelling nature of spilled-blood.  Newsweek reports:

More important, there are real topics that get lost amid all the hand-wringing about indecency. Earlier this month Italian artist Pippa Bacca began hitchhiking from Italy to the Middle East wearing a wedding dress, for a work intended to foster “marriage between different peoples and nations.” Bacca was picked up by a trucker in Turkey, who raped and strangled her, then dumped her naked body. The conversation Bacca wanted to inspire about international unity has been overshadowed by her death, underscoring the difficulty for any artist to dictate the terms of discourse about a work. But even if it wasn’t the conversation Bacca intended, the question of why a woman still cannot travel alone safely in much of the world seems a more valuable topic of discussion than whether a college student lied about her menstrual cycle.

And what’s more, Bacca’s death speaks to more than violence toward women–it testifies to the horror of shed blood, a reality we cannot help but pay attention to when it confronts us.

Perhaps Schvarts will put an end to ending life as art.  And perhaps Bacca’s blood can begin a different conversation, one of reconciliation to God through the bloody display of his Son on a cross.  This would be a conversation worth having, and God has promised that people will listen to this message.  They will listen to the blood of Jesus, which speaks louder than any bloody art.

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See the article “Art Aimed to Shock” here at Newsweek.

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