Chrissy Caviar: That Takes Ovaries

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Artists continue to make shocking and sacrilegious art, even after Piss Christ and “dung Mary.” Even steering clear of religious subjects, flesh-based projects can still create a clamor. In April, Yale student Aliza Shvarts stirred up a furor by claiming her senior art installation would incorporate blood smears and videos of several of her own self-induced miscarriages. It was a fabrication, but it attracted plenty of ire anyway.

Another woman artist, Chrissy Conant, actually did use her body to make outrageous art. She injected herself with the same fertility drugs in vitro fertilization patients use, an endocrinologist and embryologist harvested twelve of her eggs, and Conant created Chrissy Caviar (a trademarked product). Twelve eggs in flasks were set in jars “similar to those used for commercial caviar,” reports Gastronomica in its spring 2008 issue, and the Chrissy Caviar was placed in a refrigerated deli display case.

Utne wrote about Chrissy Caviar when it debuted in 2002, and interest has not abated in the intervening years. “One chef wanted to do a tasting of the eggs as part of a media event in his high-end restaurant in New York,” reports Gastronomica, “but Conant has resisted his offer, even though … she was, on a certain level, pleased that the chef made the connection [with sturgeon caviar] so literally. She finds it somewhat shocking that people would actually consider ingesting a part of her.” 

Conant refused the Chrissy Caviar tasting, but she would let the buyer of the installation do whatever he or she wanted with the eggs, according to Gastronomica, for $250,000. Nor does Conant seem to shy away from the possibility that a buyer might want to create little Chrissys. The Chrissy Caviar site includes medical histories for Conant and her immediate family. 

Conant’s project isn’t likely to attract cross-dragging protestors, whereas Shvarts’ might have. Chrissy Caviar is disturbing, but it’s a good example of art that goes beyond provoking simple outrage and disgust to encouraging viewers to think about bigger issues surrounding the ethical limits of art and the use of reproductive technologies. 

Image by Maks D., licensed under Creative Commons.

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