A Melbourne artist who was going to be paid $25,000 by the Federal Government to livestream her attempts to get pregnant by self-insemination has hit out at a decision to pull her funding.
Performance artist Casey Jenkins — whose previous works include ‘Casting off my womb’ where she knitted from a ball of wool inserted in her vagina — said her new project is “reconceptualising conception through a queer lens”.
Titled IMMACULATE, the project will see the 41-year-old perform monthly live self-inseminations with donor sperm, which she says will “elevate the experience of queer reproduction and disrupt heteronormative parenting narratives”.
The government’s major arts funding and advisory body — the Australia Council for the Arts — approved a $25,000 grant for the project in August, knowing the full details of it at the time.
However, they have now pulled the plug on the funding.
The taxpayer-funded project has been blasted on Sky News by host Peta Credlin, but the body insisted negative media coverage was not a factor in the decision.
Instead, they said their legal team deemed it too risky.
Australia Council chief executive Adrian Collette sent a letter to Ms Jenkins saying: “We cannot be party to any act that could result in bringing a new life into the world”.
In the letter, seen by The Age, Mr Collette said “the ethical issues that will inevitably surround this project, possibly for years to come, are not something the Council can take responsibility for.”
The letter also said the project “exposes the Australia Council to unacceptable, potentially long-term and incalculable risk”.
Jenkins described the decision to pull the funding as “shocking”.
She wrote on her Facebook page: “It is incredibly intimidating to have a government entity as powerful as Australia Council imply that I have done or may do something illegal and that I have been misleading in the production of my work.”
She vowed to continue with the project, despite the funding blow and criticism.
“Despite critics I have every intention of continuing to try to conceive using the perfectly ethical, perfectly common, perfectly legal and perfectly loving process of self-insemination,” she said.
“I also have every intention of continuing to unashamedly and thoughtfully document and present the process through my IMMACULATE project though it no longer has the support of Australia Council for the Arts or Art Centre Melbourne who both originally approved the work.”
Ms Jenkins’ previous projects include ‘Waste Not’, in which Ms Jenkins slowly chewed yarn and tinned food over six hours, feeding the paste onto the ground to spell the message “You Will Lay Her Life To Waste”.
Audience members were then invited to sweep the work into a pile which was wrapped and discarded.
She also produced “Casting Off My Womb”, in which Ms Jenkins knitted a 15m long passage from yarn inserted daily in their vagina to mark one full menstrual cycle.
The yarn was initially white, threaded slowly to red as it soaked with period blood, then back to white again.
“The work explored the dissonance between an individual’s quiet desires and potential, and intense community expectations regarding what they should do with their body, based on perceived gender,” she said.
Katerina Kokkinos-Kennedy, an award-winning theatre director, writer, and curator, said the Council’s funding U-turn on Ms Jenkins’ latest work was “deeply alarming”.
“Jenkins’ works are visceral and they can create anxiety: her project Casting off my Womb elicited many responses from delight and curiosity to horror and outrage,” she said.
“This kind of response is exactly what a body-based performance work is meant to do: it’s designed to make people think about something they feel uneasy about, and confronts them with something that ‘should not be happening in public’.
“This kind of indignation isn’t just reserved for a work of art like Immaculate, it’s also expressed for activities like breastfeeding, gay marriage, or children talking about climate change. These negative public responses are not ‘mistakes’ to be undone – they are in fact signs that the artist has tapped into a cultural taboo, or exposed a cultural blind spot.”
In her promotion of IMMACULATE, Ms Jenkins said she undertook the project because the “concept of conception is enigmatic”.
“Understood as a sacred moment it is simultaneously perceived as highly sexual and mystically asexual, though always with the premise of heteronormativity,” she said.
“There is no space in the doctrine for queer reproduction – viewed as an aberration. In IMMACULATE I will create a sanctuary for reflection on non-hetero reproduction – presenting the controls put on a queer body which resists being controlled, even by oneself, and the hope, fear and strength inherent in the process.
“By inviting audiences to witness an intimate moment of queer creation, solitary and unembellished, I am inviting them to insert their judgments on the validity of my experience. “My hope is that, as hypocritical and bigoted judgments do not thrive in open air, they’ll wither outside the safe shield of taboo and allow attitudinal transformations to take root. My womb is vacant. The presentation is elemental. From these clear grounds hope may grow.”