Love in a Mist: The Politics of Fertility explores several evolving narratives on the spaces and politics of fertility, triggered by the “heartbeat bills”, which recently passed into law in states such as Mississippi, Kentucky, and Georgia to criminalize abortions from as early as six weeks into pregnancy.
The exhibition explores society’s quest to control women and nature, and the resulting environmental degradation. It brings together issues such as the historical use of synthetic hormones in women’s bodies, measures to super-size farmed animals and domesticate plants, and techniques to accelerate growth and extract natural resources.
From the treatment of women’s bodies to the exploitative human relationship with nature, Love in a Mist examines spaces of fertility including abortion clinics, artificial wombs, courtrooms, farmed landscapes, and swamps, as extrapolated from diverse accounts and imaginaries by scholars, activists, legislators, ecologists, biologists, artists, and designers.
By Malkit Shoshan
Love in a Mist: The Politics of Fertility explores several evolving narratives on the spaces and politics of fertility, triggered by the “heartbeat bills,” which recently passed into law in states such as Mississippi, Kentucky, and Georgia to criminalize abortions from as early as six weeks into pregnancy.
The exhibition explores society’s quest to control women and nature, and the resulting environmental degradation. It brings together issues such as the historical use of synthetic hormones in women’s bodies; measures to super-size farmed animals and domesticate plants; and techniques to accelerate fertility and extract natural resources.
From the treatment of women’s bodies to the exploitative human relationship with nature, Love in a Mist examines spaces of fertility including abortion clinics, artificial wombs, court rooms, farmed landscapes, and swamps, as extrapolated from diverse accounts and imaginaries by scholars, activists, legislators, ecologists, biologists, artists, and designers.
Contributors and artworks in the exhibitions include: Portable Abortion Clinic and Drones by Rebecca Gomperts and Women on Waves, What If Women Ruled the World by Yael Bartana, Don’t mess with Texas by Lori Brown, Uncertain and Complex Systems by Desiree Dolron, Bodies of Steroids by FAST, Sounds of Extinction by Bernie Krause, Sugar Walls Teardom by Tabita Rezaire, and Womb by Joep Van Lieshout. The exhibition is curated by Malkit Shoshan and generously supported by the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York, as part of the Dutch Culture USA program.
Excerpt 1: Reproductive RightsFrom antiquity until the Renaissance, women cultivated a relationship with the natural world. The intimate knowledge of plants, medicinal herbs in particular, was passed down to enable future generations of women “to regulate fertility” and “function with some measure of independence in respect to reproduction” (John M. Riddle). From the thirteenth century on, however, women’s control over their bodies and reproductive knowledge has been increasingly criminalized. Women have been punished and terrorized, their bodies burned, and their teachings obliterated through church-led inquisitions and in civil courts. The pursuit to govern reproductive know-how and rights with impunity is an attack on practices of care, women’s rights, health, socio-economic freedom, and knowledge itself.
In the United States today, new compounded efforts by pro-life activists to criminalize abortions and prevent women from having access to reproductive healthcare are being backed by the federal government and legislators. In 2011, there was one attempt to outlaw abortions, in Ohio; in 2019, there were 39, including moves to pass the heartbeat bill in Missouri, South Carolina, Kentucky, Florida, Mississippi, Minnesota, Tennessee, Maryland, Texas, West Virginia, New York, Ohio, Illinois, Georgia, Louisiana, and Michigan.
To provide some foundation, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 2542 in 1969, proclaiming the Declaration on Social Progress and Human Rights, which states:
All couples and individuals have the basic right to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children and to have the information, education and means to do so; the responsibility of couples and individuals in the exercise of this right takes into account the needs of their living and future children, and their responsibilities toward the community.
In 1973, U.S. Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade affirmed that access to safe and legal abortion is a constitutional right.
While the pro-life movement promotes the heartbeat bills, the Trump administration has nominated over 150 conservative federal judges and two Supreme Court justices, gaining further support for these measures. And, as of March 4, 2020, Title X, which has provided federal funding for family planning and women’s health clinics throughout the country since 1970, will be under “Gag Rule,” effectively curtailing aid to women:
Clinics that receive funds from the federal family-planning grant program Title X will no longer be able to perform abortions in the same space where they see other patients. Abortion and other health-care services will be required to be physically and financially separate entities. Title X participants will also no longer be able to refer patients to abortion providers, though they can mention abortion to their patients. (Planned Parenthood report)
The intrinsic connection between spatial design and human rights reconfigures the spatial typology of women’s health and family planning clinics, the report continues: “about 20 percent of Title X providers would potentially have to renovate their clinics to meet the new guidelines. . . . It will likely cost each of these providers $20,000 to $40,000 to come into compliance with the physical-separation element of the new rule.”
Excerpt 2: Accelerated GrowthDuring and after the world wars, hormones and fertilizers were being developed to increase reproduction of resources and accelerate growth in the natural world. Diethylstilbestrol (DES), a synthetic form of the hormone estrogen—important to reproduction especially in women—was discovered in 1938. Just a few years later, doctors began prescribing it to pregnant women as a dietary supplement that could prevent pregnancy-related complications including miscarriage and premature labor. In 1947, Harvard University physician and biochemist George Smith and endocrinologist Olive Smith published studies linking the use of DES in high doses to miscarriage prevention. Their studies were used by drug company representatives to convince doctors to prescribe DES to pregnant women (DES Action Organization).
In the agricultural world, DES was used as a growth hormone to improve the ratio of feed to desired weight in livestock. Three decades on, however, empirical studies linked the hormone directly to increased breast cancer among the over 4.8 million women prescribed DES, cervical and vaginal cancer in their daughters, and congenital disabilities and deformation in their children generally. Its use in intensive livestock farming gradually led to the contamination of land, water, plants, and consequently also other living species (Paola Ebron and Anna Tsing). A ban on the use of DES was issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1971.
Excerpt 3: ExtinctionOn May 6, 2019, the UN released a report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, warning that nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history. The pace of species extinction is accelerating, gravely impacting people across the world. The report emphasizes the need to improve and strengthen practices of care between humans and the natural world of which they are part by recognizing the positive contributions of women, and indigenous communities in particular, to nurturing human relations with the environment and to regenerative sustainability. It recommends incorporating indigenous wisdom, values, and technology into conservation, restoration, and sustainable use of land and resources, as well as including indigenous peoples, women, and local communities in environmental governance.
Excerpt 4: CompostThe final part of the exhibition is a homage to Donna Haraway’s “Children of Compost” fabulation and her plea to reimagine a different relation between humans, the Earth, and other living entities. The shared fate of human and non-human life on Earth in this time of environmental destruction and social injustice requires joining forces across disciplines, across old wisdom and contemporary knowledge, and across cultures and species to decenter the human and reimagine symbiotic living and sustainable and equitable futures.
Love in a Mist: The Politics of Fertility is curated by Malkit Shoshan, Area Head of the Art, Design, and the Public Domain (ADPD) concentration with the Master in Design Studies program at Harvard GSD, and founding director of the Foundation for Achieving Seamless Territory (FAST), an Amsterdam- and New York-based think-tank that develops projects and campaigns at the intersection of architecture, urban planning, design, and human rights.
The exhibition includes artworks and projects by Yael Bartana, Lori Brown, Desirée Dolron, FAST, Rebecca Gomperts, Bernie Krause, Joep van Lieshout, Tabita Rezaire, and Women on Waves.
Curator, research, and exhibition design: Malkit Shoshan
Participating activists, artists, and designers: Yael Bartana, Lori Brown, Desirée Dolron, Foundation for Achieving Seamless Territory (FAST), Rebecca Gomperts, Bernard L. Krause, Joep van Lieshout, Tabita Rezaire, and Women on Waves/Women on Web
Graphic design: Sandra Kassenaar
Research assistant: Carolina Sepúlveda
Production: Dan Borelli and David Zimmerman-Stuart
Installers: Ray Coffey, Jef Czekaj, Anita Kan, Sarah Lubin, Jesus Matheus, and Joanna Vouriotis
Production assistant: Inés Benítez Gómez
Love in a Mist: The Politics of Fertility is generously supported by the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York as part of the Dutch Culture USA program.
Curator: Malkit Shoshan
Foundation for Achieving Seamless Territory (FAST)
Bernard L. Krause
Joep van Lieshout
Malkit Shoshan, Area Head of the Art, Design, and the Public Domain (ADPD) concentration with the Master in Design Studies program at Harvard GSD, and founding director of the Foundation for Achieving Seamless Territory (FAST), an Amsterdam- and New York-based think-tank that develops projects and campaigns at the intersection of architecture, urban planning, design, and human rights.
Yael Bartana is a video artist who explores the imagery of cultural identity. In her photographs, films and installations Bartana critically investigates her native country's struggle for identity. Her early work documents collective rituals introducing alienation effects such as slow-motion and sound. In her recent work the artist stages situations and introduces fictive moments into real existing narratives.
Lori Brown is co-founder of ArchiteXX, a group dedicated to transforming the architecture profession for women. She is a registered architect, an author, and associate professor at Syracuse University. Her research focuses on architecture and social justice issues with particular emphasis on gender and its impact upon spatial relationships.
Desirée Dolron is a Dutch photographer who lives and works in Amsterdam. Her photographs portray a variety of styles and subjects involving documentary, still lifes, portraits, and architecture.
Rebecca Gomperts is a doctor based in Amsterdam and founder of Women on Waves and Women on Web, which provide reproductive health services for women in countries where it is not provided. In 2013 and 2014, she was included in the BBC’s 100 Women. In 2018, she founded Aid Access, which operates in the US. A trained abortion specialist and activist, she is generally considered the first abortion rights activist to cross international borders.
Bernard L. Krause is an American musician and soundscape ecologist. In 1968, he founded Wild Sanctuary, an organization dedicated to the recording and archiving of natural soundscapes. Krause is an author, a bio-acoustician, a speaker, and natural sound artist who coined the terms geophony, biophony, and anthropophony, and, as a founder of the field, was germane to the definition and structure of soundscape ecology. Krause holds a PhD in Creative (Sound) Arts with an internship in bioacoustics from Union Institute & University in Cincinnati.
Joep van Lieshout is a Rotterdam-based sculptor. He founded studio Atelier Van Lieshoutin 1995 in Rotterdam where the company continues to create and fabricate their widely exhibited works. Its name emphasizes the fact that although the sculptor founded and leads the studio, the work produced stems from the creative impulses of the entire team. Recurring themes include self-sufficiency, power, politics, and the more classical life and death.
Tabita Rezaire is a French video artist, health-tech-politics practitioner, and Kemetic/Kundalini yoga teacher based in Cayenne, French Guyana. Her practices unearth the possibilities of decolonial healing through the politics of technology.