What would you do in the name of art?
Marc Bradly Johnson, an MFA student at New York’s School of Visual Arts, had a great idea for his thesis project: he would fill 68 vials with his own semen, place them in a refrigerator in one of SVA’s galleries, advertise the display on Craigslist, and then give away his semen to any interested members of the public. What could go wrong? As the Daily Intelligencer reports, the answer is a lot, thanks to the prudish/appropriately health-concerned administrators at SVA, who temporarily confiscated the project once it was brought to their attention.
“I’ve been working on this for months,” Johnson told Daily Intelligencer, “Somewhat ironically – it’s just masturbating and calling it artwork.” He said his professors were well aware and that he’d shown the work multiple times in class critiques. “This isn’t unprecedented,” he said. “There is plenty of bio-hazardous work in the art world.”
Johnson even made some concessions before the project’s debut last Friday, agreeing to microwave the samples before placing them on display and giving them away. “You can only microwave for eight seconds before it bubbles over the container,” Johnson said. “The semen is dead. The swimmers are not swimming”
The dead and boiled sperm wasn’t enough, though, for SVA’s director of environmental health and safety John DeLuca, who wrote Johnson an email the next morning.
“A considerable issue has come up surrounding your piece,” DeLuca wrote, noting that “the distribution of human tissue, or in this case your sperm cells, whether dead or alive is not permitted by the law outside of a medically directed facility” and “in checking with a biomedical scientist I was informed that there is no way to ensure the sperm samples would be 100 percent free of pathogens.” He added, “In order to protect the public and comply with all appropriate regulations we will need to secure the refrigerator until I can arrange to have the sperm samples disposed of as hazardous biowaste.”
So the refrigerator full of semen was seized and locked in an administrator’s office until a waste-management firm could pick it up. Johnson claimed censorship, but was still somewhat amused. “I am happy that he had to sit with 68 vials of my cum in his presence,” he said.
Despite the drama, there was a happy ending, mostly. After several days of negotiating — that included threats to take the story to the media — the school called off the project’s disposal and allowed Johnson to display his art, as long as he agreed to seal the vials. Johnson, however, still wasn’t entirely happy, and decided to attach a note to the exhibit:
This refrigerator contained 68 vials of fresh semen harvested by the artist. The public was free to take the vials. The School of Visual Arts quarantined and sealed the vials in the box now in the refrigerator, labeled ‘bio hazardous waste.’
SVA sees the creative potential of the artist as a health hazard and deemed too unsafe to be taken by the public.