SARAH KAVAGE

I’m a Seattle based visual artist and cultural organizer who makes art about place. 

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PAINTING & DESIGN


SARAH KAVAGE

I’m a Seattle based visual artist who makes artwork about place. 

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ABOUT
PAINTING & DESIGN

MOON CYCLE

2017
Giant Steps, King Street Station, Seattle



THE STORY OF MOON CYCLE
(CW: this is loooong and talks about period blood)

The story begins when Seattle arts impresario Greg Lundgren dreamed up a conceptual 48-hour artist residency on the moon and began soliciting proposals for an exhibition about it.

The little I know about space exploration has been largely due to my husband, Robert Zverina, who has had a lifelong interest in the Apollo program. Personally I just like to gaze up at the moon every once in awhile, and I’m a fan of John Carpenter’s 1974 comedic masterpiece “Dark Star.”

Anyway, the call for proposals didn’t really feel like something for me at first, but since Rob was applying and there was a $10,000 prize attached I continued to think about it. What I came up with was part abject art, part divine feminine, but mostly one big F YOU to all the people who think it’s a great idea to colonize and claim everything, including the moon, as theirs. What’s below is from the statement / proposal for the exhibition (these days I would replace the binary gender language, I leave it as is for history’s sake):



I propose to go up to the moon during my menstrual cycle, leaving a mark in blood on its surface. My intent is to reclaim the moon, an eternal feminine symbol, in the name of femininity.

The mission will be planned and executed with an all-woman crew; our first task will be to redesign the NASA spacesuit for this mission. The blood will be collected directly from the body into a small holding tube which can be opened from the outside of the space suit once the wearer is in position (Put another way, I’m not just going up there with some blood in a vial; I’m gonna go squat and bleed on a moon rock).

As the first woman on the moon, I would undertake this act as a reminder that the moon is symbolically and traditionally the domain of women, our monthly cycles connecting us to the moon’s pull since time immemorial. At the same time, it is a defiant gesture against colonization of the beautiful, mysterious places in the universe, and a celebration of our wild, untamed feminine nature. In the same manner in which our female ancestors were isolated from the tribe during their ‘moon cycle’, I will be flung into outer space to roam the wilderness.

Given that it’s that time of the month, the situation is sure to provoke plenty of alternately weepy and bitchy transmissions from space.



I was pretty stoked when the proposal was accepted for the show. Greg and I decided that the best way to manifest the concept would be in one of several moon rock dioramas being built for the show of the lunar surface.

At this point, it was only about 6 weeks before the show opened, and I had to rush to the store and buy a menstrual cup so that I could collect blood during my next cycle. If you menstruate and you haven’t tried a menstrual cup, do it! My sister raved about menstrual cups years ago, and shame on me that it took so long to try it. It is easier, less messy, and if you are into body stuff, it’s frankly FREAKING COOL to be able to get an up close look at what your body is doing every month.

I got about 1 ½ ounces of blood, a fairly typical amount and plenty for the show. I stored it in a little Tupperware in the freezer, and the weekend before the show thawed out the blood and went down to the show and drenched the hell out of that moon rock. It was apparently not expected that I would use real blood.

The night of the show, face it…I didn’t really have any illusions that I would actually WIN $10,000. There was also a $500 People’s Choice Award, which I also didn’t have much chance of winning. The piece was small, and set alongside several dozen mostly flashier and more tech-savvy contributions. It took a little bit of effort to connect the proposal text to the actual visual. There was even another menstrual related piece (which could be expected, although of course I thought mine was better). I was also dissatisfied with the appearance of the blood drippings. And yeah, perhaps it was just too gross. I could go on with the excuses.

But on top of that, I also didn’t really anticipate how it would make me feel to walk into a crowded art opening and have my menstrual blood on display. It was a crazy mix of emotions. I was extremely nervous, and at the root of that nervousness was an unfortunately familiar feeling of shame and self-doubt that I have spent the last 45 years trying to work through. Is this too much? Are people gonna smell it? Should I be embarrassed that I saved and used my own blood that came out of my coochie and stuff?

I felt like an imposter. I felt like I didn’t hype the piece like I should have, or show the pride in my own body that I would have if I were a “real” feminist.

Even weirder was the reaction from other people on opening night. A handful people were VERY enthusiastic about it. Other than that, it was sort of crickets. This, coupled with what I was feeling, twisted my perception of everything that night and made me sort of paranoid: Are people avoiding me?

After that night, I asked a few friends who were there what they thought directly. Usually I get more feedback on my work, and it’s also rare for me to feel so invested in others’ opinions of it.

Here’s an exchange with a male friend that I remember:

Male Friend: Well your piece at Giant Steps sure caused some conversation!
Me: Really? That’s pretty weird, I think maybe people didn’t want to talk about it to me…I didn’t hear a lot. What did they say?
MF: Well, I think they thought it was very…brave. Of you to do that.
Me: Hm. (in my head, thoughts are racing: Is he lying? By brave does he mean stupid? That doesn’t sound like “some conversation” to me, it’s like when you are talking through a translator and the other person talks for 5 minutes and then the translator turns and says to you “she said ‘yes.’”)

Quote from this article: The price is that they must be willing to play their aging bodies for shock and for laughs, an act the world condescends to – at least, when women perform it – as ‘brave.’”– Emily Nussbaum, The New Yorker

This continued after the exhibition. Here’s a quote from the article that a local arts critic wrote in her review. My work was mentioned thusly:

Some of the artists came up with elaborate plans. Others, elaborate plans that were jokes. Some wanted to do simple things, like drip menstrual blood onto the surface of the moon straight from the artist's vagina…

My name was mentioned exactly nowhere in the article (which did mention several of the male artists). Erasure, anyone? The paranoia raises its head again, except now I’m really starting to be amazed. I thought we were past this; especially because this is a critic who writes extensively on issues of feminism and racism in art. 

This is a taboo that still runs deep (much more than I would have assumed before I did this) - and a still unconscious one. Despite all the amazing work other artists and people have done to liberate the menstruating / feminine body, to present it as something miraculous, magical bearer of life, and most importantly a complex whole - that view is still marginalized.

Most disturbingly, this is a taboo that I play into myself.

I got a first hand lesson into what it is like to create abject art, to expose oneself as having a real menstruating body and all of the squeamishness and weird shame that goes with it.

We live in a culture that is obsessed with blood and violence but embarrassed by basic bodily functions.

I watched my inability to disconnect emotionally from my own body. The feeling that it’s my own value, my own essence being judged, and one that is found sorely wanting and not worthy of discussion or comment.

WIth the exception of one male friend, no one mentioned to me any of the deeper issues that are the underlying motivation for the piece: colonialization and the western, patriarchal notion of the conquering explorer, alongside all the great traditions of abject and body art (Ana Mendita, Carolee Schneeman, Chris Burden, Vito Acconci, Story of O). No one could get beyond the period thing.

Then finally, one night, months later, this happened at a party, with someone I’d just met:
M (as we exchange names): Oh wait! You were the person who did that piece at Giant Steps!
Me: Um, yeah…maybe! The period piece?
M immediately busts out laughing and says, “I LOVED that piece. I thought it was hilarious.”
And we both laugh together.

Stories like this have continued to gather, slowly; a slow drip of positivity wearing away my cynisicm and self-doubt.

Since then, I’ve continued to collect my menstrual blood, hiding it away in a corner of the freezer in a slowly-filling deli container. I hope my husband never mistakes it for the ice cream.   

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