Marc Bradley Johnson literally got his creative juices flowing with his most recent art project called, “Take This Sperm and Be Free of Me.”
However the installation was temporarily ceased and 68 chilled vials of Johnson’s semen was seized due to health concerns. The project has been declared a “health hazard” by the School of Visual Arts (SVA), reports New York Magazine.
The vials had been stored in a refrigerator at the SVA’s Chelsea art gallery. An ad was placed on Craigslist offering the chance to anyone to walk in and take a piece of the artist home, literally taking a vial of Johnson’s semen. It was about “creation, parenting, desire, masculinity, fantasy, and reality,” Johnson said. However, that is not how the Manhattan art school saw it.
Johnson told the Daily Intelligencer:
“I’ve been working on this for months. Somewhat ironically — it’s just masturbating and calling it artwork.”
Initially SVA approved the work as it was in progress. When administration learned of Johnson’s subject matter, concerns of safety and liability were voiced. Johnson offered to microwave the sperm vials as a precaution, killing the little swimmers inside. However, nuking the biological samples did not satisfy the concerns of SVA assistant director of student galleries, Richard Brooks.
The installation debuted without incident as part of a group showing called “Split Ends,” which will be running until March 9 at the Visual Arts Gallery in New York. However, the next day Johnson was emailed by the school’s director of environmental health and safety, John DeLuca.
Johnson was informed that the distribution of human tissue, or in this case sperm cells, whether dead or alive was not permitted by the law outside of a medical facility. Additionally Brooks noted they could not ensure the samples would be 100 percent free of pathogens, and therefore was a health threat to the public.
The vials were stored in a sealed container labeled as “bio hazard waste,” in accordance with health code regulations, until such time as Brooks could have the sperm samples properly disposed.
A tug of war ensued between Johnson and the school. The university eventually acquiesced once Johnson threatened to go to the media, and postponed the professional disposal.
SVA disclosed in a statement, citing New York Public Health Code 10 NYCRR 52-8:
“Although it is regrettable that the artwork had to be modified after going on display, and better communication was called for in planning the exhibition, it is incumbent on any responsible exhibition venue to consider the law and public safety; laws governing the collection, storage and distribution of human reproductive tissue.”
According to Michael Grant, the director of communications for SVA, the parties involved came to an accord when Johnson agreed the vials would remain sealed in the display refrigerator and would not be made available for visitors to take.
Johnson is disheartened with the arrangement, and feels the likelihood of a lawsuit would have been minimal. Instead he feels the integrity of his work, the merit of his ideas were more important.
The “art,” now altered from its original unveiling, has a note attached which reads:
“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.”