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Acts of intimate banality

Questioning the axing of Casey Jenkins’s grant
December 2020, no. 427

Acts of intimate banality

Questioning the axing of Casey Jenkins’s grant
December 2020, no. 427

Like much feminist performance art since the 1960s, Casey Jenkins’s latest performance piece, titled IMMACULATE, centres on a female body – Jenkins’s own. IMMACULATE is a performance that documents the legal and commonly practised process of self-insemination in the home.

After initially awarding funding to the work, the Australia Council has rescinded the grant, stating: ‘We cannot be party to any act that could result in bringing a new life into the world.’ While the Council denies ideological reasons or political pressure behind its U-turn decision – despite having sent the artist a transcript of Peta Credlin’s scathing condemnation of the work on her Sky News talk show prior to announcing the funding cut – the response more troublingly points to a long history of political and institutional attempts to control how women use their bodies and assert their reproductive rights.

From the New Issue

Comments (7)

  • This article blatantly erases the real issue people had with it. Specifically that donor conceived people don’t want our conception used as entertainment when our circumstances have caused many of us real and lasting trauma. They can do what they want with their body, but DCP trauma should not be on display like that.
    Posted by Cassandra
    12 February 2021
  • I read with interest the article by Dr Lara Stevens on Casey Jenkins' Immaculate, the funding issue, and the subsequent reader responses and the author's rejoinder.

    I notice that the reader responses are concerned with donor conceived persons and their genetic identity rights. One of the issues for donor conceived persons is that they have often been dismissed by the medical community and their families when seeking knowledge about their genetic heritage. It has also sometimes been the practice of parents to not inform their donor conceived children that they have been created in this way until they are teenagers or adults, or even not to tell them at all and they discover it in some other manner, further adding to the insult. (There is research on this issue by Dr Helen Riley, which also applies to late discovery adoptees, of whom I am one.) Whether or not Casey Jenkins would tell their potential child/children of their genetic heritage—that is, who provided the sperm for the insemination that contributed to their conception—from an appropriate age is not known from the article or on examination of their website or artwork. I stand corrected if I am wrong about this.

    The 'right to their own genetic identity' means the right to know from whom one inherits that genetics, which means knowing who their parents are, both mother and father. It might be the case that you can obtain a DNA test, but what donor conceived persons might be seeking is the knowledge not only of their DNA but of their actual father, who they are as a person. I do not think anyone is accusing Jenkins of doing anything illegal. What we might be questioning is the possible lack of consideration of the ethical implications of the donor conception process itself, if it involves negating the potential wishes of the child at some stage of their life to know both of their parents.

    I note that Dr Lara Stevens discusses pro-life campaigns and their focus on the rights of embryos over the rights of the living person, the mother. What I and the other commenters are focusing on are the rights of potential donor conceived persons. I take her point that the artwork is about the process of self-insemination, not the creation of a child as such, and that the child is not a feature of the artwork, and might never result from the practice that is documented. However, I do not think that the rights, as discussed above, of any possible child conceived as a result of self-insemination can be dismissed this way.

    Let me be clear. I am not criticising Casey Jenkins's artwork. I think it challenging and worthwhile and inherently valuable, from my point of view as a woman, a daughter, an adopted person, and a woman without children herself. I am wanting to call our attention to the fact that donor conceived persons can feel unheard and ignored if they wish to know their genetic heritage (i.e. the identity of both parents). It may be considered that this is not relevant to the artwork, but I disagree; one of the many values of this artwork is that it raises many questions and issues, including discussion around the issues raised by and about donor conceived persons.
    Posted by Sue Bond
    02 January 2021
  • Article 8 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states - 'States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference.'

    It is important to note that Australia is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and that our donor conception laws have been created with these principles in mind. Ownership and connection to genetic identity are fundamentally a human right and a State involving itself in any process or activity which could lead to the breach of those rights is a potential concern. But beyond this, it's of greater concern to me and a number of other people connected to the donor-conception community that I've spoken to (including donors and parents of donor conceived people) that Casey Jenkins has actively criticised and excluded any discussion or commentary about donor-conceived people and how one act of "intimate banality", as Stevens describes it, has inherent, profound and lifelong implications for the identity of people conceived through this manner. It clearly wasn't Jenkins's intention for the broader narrative to be the focus of their piece, but that doesn't make the broader narrative irrelevant or validate their desire to exclude it.
    Posted by Hayley
    09 December 2020
  • Thanks for these responses. There seems to be a common concern that Jenkins’s artwork is denying the rights of donor-conceived people, but each of the comments is elliptical about which rights exactly are being infringed upon. Katherine Vowles is concerned that the artwork will ‘invalidate all the genetics’, though it’s unclear what this means. Basic biology shows that everyone inherits half of their genes from each parent. This remains the same whether you’re conceived via procreation or a donor. ‘Hayley’ is concerned about the hypothetical child’s ‘right to their own genetic identity’ but does not explain what they are referring to here. Anyone today can send a buccal swab of cheek cells to a lab to have their genes and DNA tested and analysed for a small fee, though I don’t see how this knowledge of one's genetic identity strengthens anyone's human rights. It is worth noting that Jenkins never broke the law, nor did they ever accept payment to create a child. Jenkins was very explicit with the Australia Council from the outset of the submission process that they were attempting to conceive a child independently, in their personal life, and that the artwork (for which they were applying for funding) was mere documentation of this process.
    Posted by Lara Stevens
    09 December 2020
  • The issue with the artwork has nothing to do with Jenkins and their right to procreate, and everything to do with their denial of the rights of donor-conceived people (which Jenkins' child(ren) are, like it or not). I think if Jenkins would acknowledge this and consider the rights of this marginalized group of people (the DCP community), there would be less outcry. Plus, it is just unethical to use public funds for procreation, art or not.
    Posted by Helen Balzer
    04 December 2020
  • A more progressive and important issue is that of donor-conceived people and the fact that in Victoria (the world's most progressive state in legislation of donor conception), someone can completely go outside of these laws and accept payment to create a child, use their conception for personal and professional gain, and invalidate all of the genetics that child will inherit. The very name of the project discredits the full genetic being, and is some odd throwback to religion, which is an irrelevant party to be rabble-rousing. The project is supposed to conclude when a child is conceived. This is absolutely not a pro-choice or pro-life argument. It is about the commodification of children and the human rights that projects like this violate. The point is to create a child - the reckless, exploitative and unethical ways they were conceived are only relevant after they are born. There are reasons why donor-conceived people have progressive laws in place to protect them for future generations. No one is talking about the real reasons why the funding was pulled - of donor conception itself - and the worldly foresight the Australia Council has had on the matter.
    Posted by Katherine vowles
    03 December 2020
  • Lara, the problem is that there are significant intersectional issues that Casey Jenkins hasn’t addressed in their work; quite separate from the pro-life arguments that give rights to embryos, there have been significant legislative changes in Victoria based on the ethical and legal recognition that donor conceived people have a right to their own genetic identity. While DIY insemination may not be covered by the same laws that clinics are held to, Jenkins has refused to consider or address the nuances given that the intentional choices she is making with their body will have inherent impacts on the child that they are actively intending to conceive. In fact Jenkins has actively sought to personally attack and marginalise any donor-conceived voice that has posted questions or queries on their page - this is acutely counter to the progressive changes in the donor conception space and should be concerning to advocates of progress.

    While the child does not exist and does not currently have rights, it’s important to note that the complexity of this issue is well removed and from the idealogy that embryos have a right to life; the issue extends beyond conception and into the realm of purposeful rebukement of best practice for donor conception.
    Posted by Hayley
    03 December 2020

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