Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022, abortion rights in the US have been severely restricted in several states, with a recent ruling by a federal judge in Texas, designed to take the abortion pill mifepristone off the market nationally, heading to the Supreme Court. Now artist Nancy Baker Cahill is giving the overwhelming majority of Americans who support abortion rights a voice—and an image: a bright red, exploding uterus that appears, through augmented reality (AR) technology, above the Supreme Court and choice statehouses.
Given its colouring and its branching form, the uterus looks a bit like a lobster with fallopian tubes in the place of claws. You can also see it as a bloody mess, as it breaks apart into fragments with a sharp, cracking noise. The artwork is called State Property (2023), a nod to how the uterus has become the site of so much legislation and criminalisation.
“The uterus cracks apart because I wanted to underscore the violence of these laws and also the fracturing of democracy,” Baker Cahill says. “This abortion fight is directly related to the dissolution of democracy through redistricting and the suppression of voters’ rights—it’s not what the majority of Americans want.”
“These are punitive laws, misogynist laws,” she adds. “This is a pro-birth or forced birth agenda.”
The artwork can be viewed on a smartphone through the free app the 4th Wall, which the artist created in 2018 for her AR projects, by anyone within a half mile radius of the sites. By clicking on “coordinates” within the app when near the Supreme Court building in Washington, DC, the uterus will float above the building’s Corinthian marble columns, or maybe land on the pediment.
“Geolocation can be a fickle beast,” says the artist, whose AR work has roots both in feminist Land Art and the history of political interventions. “I can install the artwork wherever I want it, but it will sometimes bounce around. There’s a poetics to that that works with any sort of resistance movement, in the way that dissenting voices cannot be contained.”
While the uterus is all ready to hover near the Supreme Court Building, Baker Cahill is finalising its placement above government buildings in Texas, Nebraska, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina in the coming days.
Long a battleground state for human rights issues, Texas has been in the headlines this month because of the judge’s ruling there invalidating Food and Drug Administration approval of the abortion pill mifesterone, which has been available legally for decades. The judge, Matthew J. Kacsmaryk, is a Donald Trump appointee who has come under scrutiny for his extreme anti-abortion ideology and non-scientific language, like saying “unborn human” in place of “fetus”.
This week, a three-judge appellate panel with two Trump appointees agreed to some restrictions on the availability of the pill but have kept it on the market while the lawsuit filed by anti-abortion groups proceeds through the courts.
For most states on her list, Cahill Baker is placing the exploding uterus above the building where the state legislature meets. In Texas, she plans to drop it on top of Judge Kacsmaryk’s courthouse.