IVF And Reproduction: Assisted Reproductive Technology = ART

An interview with Art Muse Marilee Talkington


Can you explain how you are merging IVF and art?

IVF is a scientific method used to create life.   Art is the expression of human creative skill and imagination, to create aesthetic objects, often objects that reflect life.   Both of which ask one to step into the role of creative being to accomplish these things.   I’m trying to bridge, what seems to me a very obvious gap by merging these two creative processes together into one single performance art piece.

In The Creative Process, I will actually become LIVING ART by inviting the world to watch my in vitro fertilization journey, which includes my two weeks of 2-3 daily IVF hormone injections.   The world can ‘come with me’ while I have my eggs retrieved, then fertilized, then re-implanted back into my body, and then after a few weeks we will all find out together if indeed it all worked, and I become pregnant.   It is an intensely emotional and private journey.   But the way I’m empowering myself through all this uncertainty is by stepping fully into the role of creative being and turning all of this into an art piece.

There are three parts to the piece

1.   I’ll be doing all my stimulation hormone injections publicly (2-3 injections per day for 10+ days) and live-streaming them on USTREAM so anyone who is interested can watch and follow the journey as it’s happening in real-time.

I’ll also be doing these injections in public places around San Francisco. Which I’m really excited about. I’m throwing the doors open and taking my injections to the streets!     I’ll be guerilla injecting in places of great creative inspiration for me, such as the SF MOMA, deYOUNG museum, Exploratorium, Golden Bridge and a few others that are near to my heart.   If you go my website you can see where I’ll be injecting and when so you can come join me.

2. The second element of merging IVF and art is the ART INSTALLATION piece.

I’m building a large scale mixed media installation that will be on display at SOMArts Cultural Center from May 30th to June 12th.   This installation is inspired by a 1920’s broken down hospital room, complete with antique speculums, uterus measurement tools, hundreds of test tubes and a specially crafted aluminum floor that is made up of nearly 150 single panels, each depicting an image of femininity, fertility and beauty.

Over the course of my injections, I will be transforming the installation from this broken down hospital room into a vibrant garden of 1000’s of fabric flowers which will be hung and growing out of the space.   This is the main element of The Creative Process piece where I am a full creator.   No matter what happens at the end of the IVF process, I am and will remain a creator.   I will be making that statement to myself fully through this installation.

3. The third way I’m marrying IVF and art is through Performance.   On May 30th, I’ll be unveiling my art installation as well as performing a one night only multi-media performance art piece which will include my first public injection.   I’ll also be coming out in a fertility goddess costume that even Lady Gaga would be jealous of! This will be the first night I do this injection at all, so it is going to be very real, very honest and most likely I’ll be shaking like a leaf.

On June 8th, the last night of my public stimulation hormones, there will be a huge public art event at PUSH Athletics, that will include over a two dozen fierce female and feminine performers creating their own shorter performances inspired by the theme “Femininity and the ability to create.” It’s a curated evening and right now I have aerial dancers, improvisers, slam poets, story-tellers, opera singers, hip hop singers, burlesque dancers, drag queens, and me filling the roster. This night is all about reaching out to the public in an accessible and fun way to celebrates fertility, infertility, and the journey we go on to conceive life.
close-up of ov watch
What moment created this idea?
I hit a low about two months ago.   The procedures I was having were excruciatingly painful because of the scarring on the left side of my uterus.   I was in total shock and denial that I wasn’t able to have a baby naturally with the man of my dreams.   And I was really battling the reality that I was getting older. And I was hating every doctor appointment, every conversation about trying to have a baby, every piece of advice I was getting about cutting out caffeine and reducing my stress levels.   I felt like crap.   So I told my husband that if we were going to move forward with IVF I had to change my perspective. I had to turn my frown upside down. I couldn’t,   for the sake of my own sanity and health and that of the life that would be created inside of me, bring myself to IVF when I was filled with such anger, fear and resentment.   I wanted to bring myself to this as I so often see myself...a beautiful fierce woman with love to share and overflowing creativity.

And the only sure fire way I can feel that amazing about myself is when I’m creating a new art piece. When I conceive of a new theatrical work or installation I’m in heaven.   It’s my happy place and a place of total freedom and acceptance, even when that piece is   hard as hell.   So I decided to do a performance art piece about the IVF process.   And the piece began to grow in size and impact with each person that I talked to.   Until it turned into this epic three part living art piece.

SHEER love

What do you hope your audience will learn about IVF and assisted reproduction?
I didn’t know anything about IVF five months ago.   I had no idea that over six million women and men in the United states were infertile.   I didn’t know that being called infertile, even when I feel fierce, would spear my identity as a woman, as a creator so quickly and so painfully.   And I didn’t know that so many other women, men and couples go through this IVF process alone, behind closed doors, feeling isolated and shamed. I also didn’t know that I would need to take nearly 50 injections plus a ton of oral medication, plus visit the doctor nearly every other day during these two weeks to watch how my body reacts, and that most women going through IVF do this and we never even know about it.   So my deepest hope is that audiences will walk away with a very clear understanding of what the IVF journey is from start to finish, by letting my   physical, emotional, and spiritual requirements, and ups and down be as transparent as possible.   And hopefully by being so public, I can honor all those that have already gone through this, and hopefully empower those that may be embarking on this journey in the future.   The more people know about this process,   the more acceptance, compassion and connectivity can be cultivated.

Will you be documenting this process in any other way? Through pictures or any other mediums?
I’ll be filming and live-streaming all the injections and everyone will be able to watch those on my website as well as my facebook page and twitter accounts.   I’ll also be live-streaming video blogs throughout the day to let folks know what I’m feeling and how my body is changing and affecting me.   And I’ll also be taking photos of my body as it changes, as well as filming (to the best of my ability) all my ultrasounds and procedures.   Obviously if I’m knocked out (anesthesia) that   won’t happen.   But I will be checking in before and after the retrieval procedure, which should be a wild day.   I’ll also share any images I’m receiving from the doctors and hopefully do some educational video blogs describing the science behind everything.
I’m also really interested in hearing what folks are saying about this process, so we have a TWITTER hash tag,   #creativeivf that we have just started using for this piece and process. I’ll be giving up to the minute updates on the process on TWITTER.

I do have a hope of doing a documentary or a large scale picture book after this is all done...whenever that might be.   So I’m going to document as closely as possible.

To watch, follow and comment:

**And something I haven’t mentioned thus far, which is a really important element to this piece:   I am extending a standing invitation to any other woman and couple going through IVF injections to come meet me so we can do our injections together. This could potentially be the most powerful aspect of this entire project.   Even if just one woman joins me on one day out in public, it could completely shift the paradigm of how we bring ourselves to this intense process and even open up a whole new avenue of support and empowerment for those doing IVF in the future.
Test tubes
Most want to keep assisted reproduction a secret, why did you want to do this publicly?
I’m doing this publicly because   part of the intense identity crisis that I’ve been suffering from when I found out I was infertile stemmed from the isolation of it all.   I felt so alone, and that I had failed in some way. I didn’t know anyone who had gone through it.   And IVF wasn’t out in full public view like other controversial female processes like breastfeeding. I also found that everyone would begin to whisper when I brought it up. And that made me feel even worse, like in fact it was a shameful thing after all.     I was feeling very closed and angry. And that’s just not who I am.   I can’t live that way.

So I’m reaching out in the biggest and boldest way I can. I’m not just breaking my silence, but I’m shouting about it proudly. I totally realize that this is not a common reaction, and I absolutely respect those who need to keep their process quiet. But for those who are quiet because of shame or because they feel stigmatized then hopefully what I’m doing can give them courage to talk more freely about things. And to have fuller conversations with their friends and family and co-workers, and in general feel more empowered and as fierce and brave as indeed they are.   Any woman going through this many injections is absolutely brave!

Now there is also the concern of what if I go through all of this and it doesn’t work?   Everyone knows now.   Everyone is invested and asking me about it. It’s all out in the open. Does that mean the failure will be that much more painful?   I don’t know the answer to that.   But for me, in this performance piece, I feel like the benefits creating new possibilities for others and empowering myself already outweighs those risks.

Baby swim

Infertility shame is a huge problem for men and women. How do you hope men will get engaged and involved in the process?
Talking, Talking, Talking.   Even for women it’s hard to talk about infertility.   But for men it’s doubly hard because they are rarely encouraged by society to share their feelings.   I sincerely invite men, either those with their own infertility issues, or those supporting their partners with infertility issues to engage in conversations that are happening on my facebook page and twitter account.   Ask questions, pose questions, give support to one another.   There’s room enough in this project for all of us to feel fierce and feel accepted in a very public way.