Is a Fridge Full of Free Semen “Art?”
Apparently yes, it is, but it’s also a biohazard and might be confiscated and destroyed.
Marc and I on our recent Skype date.
He may be known in certain artistic circles as “Dickasso,” who is known for his work in “Pubism,” but Marc Bradley Johnson laughs it all off. Johnson’s MFA thesis project “Take this Sperm and Be Free of Me,” is a fridge filled with 68 vials of his own semen. Unfortunately for Marc the School of Visual Art (SVA) in Manhattan seized the fridge, because it was a “public health risk.” He had microwaved his semen prior to the exhibition in order to sterilize his baby goop, and the school made him re-microwave it to provide proof that they had zero chances of becoming future humans.
Since Johnson was almost pinched for “intent to distribute biohazardous materials,” we called him up to see what was going on.
In between chats about his Mormon upbringing, and his pipe dream of having kids with willing strangers as art, I realized Marc is a pretty cool guy, and not a pretentious douchelord who thinks that casting bodily fluids into the wind represents the fleeting, ephemeral nature of postmodernity or something.
VICE: So what’s the latest with this sperm project of yours?
Marc: I’ve been working on it since the summer. I’ve been doing lots of research surrounding these issues of reproduction, masculinity, having kids, and how having kids is like making art.
I’ve been reading a lot of coverage on you in the media, and I hate to say it, but a lot of people aren’t taking you seriously. There are a lot of cum jokes…
Oh they are so great, I can’t tell you how delighted I am, being coined as Dickasso, or working in Pubism. That’s fantastic. Why not?
What I don’t understand is how, say, The Tate Modern in London can have exhibitions of used sanitary napkins with dried blood but you can’t have dead sperm in vials.
Yeah, the SVA is a private institution and was interested in watching their back and making sure that no lawsuits come from the artwork.
I was raised Mormon, so the issues that I’m dealing with are difficult. When I say that I was working for months on this piece, I meant conceptualizing it for months.
So, not masturbating for months.
Who hasn’t been masturbating for months? I take it very seriously.
Right. Well, can you give me the timeline of how all this sperm came together?
I was working on this project all of last semester and it’s carried over into this semester as well.
We had a meeting a month before the show went up with the assistant director of the gallery. He asked us if any of us had any safety concerns, or any other concerns regarding our work. You know, many of the artists in the show have these big sculptures that are unstable. I raised my hand and I said, “Mine might be a public health concern.”
He kind of brushed it off. I got a voicemail the next day asking about the vials. I said, “This is a refrigerator with vials of my semen that will be in the gallery, that anyone can take. That is the piece.”
On the last hour on the last day of the show, he had just previously learned that I put up a Craigslist ad that invited anyone to come to the gallery and take the semen vials. He came up to me and said, “I’m concerned about the safety of my staff.”
Did he take action?
Yes. A third party was hired to come in orange jumpsuits and destroy the semen. Then I wrote a letter to the administration.
The next day I get a call from the external director of communications, another bureaucrat, whom I had no idea worked at SVA, and he said “Marc, would you feel better if you could keep your semen?” Like one day, I’m literally being told by John DeLuca [the school’s director of environmental health and safety] that this is a violation of the Homeland Security Act to even transport your own semen. These claims are so ridiculous. I am a walking biohazard dispensary. You are a walking biohazard dispensary. All of us are apparently bioterrorists according to Homeland Security. Which is great, it totally enhances the work. I’m really happy about that.
So when you graduate in May, you’re done this project?
Oh, no, I think this project will last a very long time. I’m not really sure where it’s going to go, I don’t even know if I should be saying these kinds of things.
The original idea of the project was to find a way to have a bunch of kids and eventually have a family reunion. I don’t think that’s going to happen, and attaching myself to that kind of expectation is really absurd.
What do you mean have a bunch of children, like HAVE children?
Like have children.
Like find people who are interested in having my children, and have them have take my sperm for free. Maybe negotiate something like ultrasound photos, birthday photos… the kind of things that can be used as primary material for exhibitions and then…
Did you think about the ethical considerations? What would happen with these kids? Would you be their dad, would you see them?
[Laughs hysterically] These are all of the issues that I am interested in talking about with my work.
But it sounds a little exploitative.
Yes, of course. These are the kinds of conversations my professors and I have all the time. We talk about the ethical considerations, and what it means to be a parent. We talk about whether there are any reasons to be a parent other than being inherently selfish, that doesn’t go back to the this idea of making yourself over and over again.
Listen, I’m not interested in rampantly impregnating the world. If this piece ever does happen properly, it would only be with people interested in doing it. With families interested in having a family.
Do you have a partner or significant other in your life?
I sound like I’m hitting on you, but I’m just curious to know what people in your life think of this.
It’s so funny, I actually just got broken up with via text message.
Last night. I had been seeing someone for like four months.
Is it because of this whole situation?
[Laughs] No, yeah, no, she’s an artist. She has artist sensibilities, she understands how ridiculously crazy I am. Do you really want to know? Is this going in the piece? I don’t know if I want this going into the piece.
Okay. We’ll leave it at that. Thanks so much Marc!
You can still catch Marc’s fridge full of semen at the gallery 17 Cox (I can’t make this shit up) in Beverly, Massachusetts, from May 2 to July 4.
Follow Kirsten on Twitter: @kristencochrane