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facts & arguments

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Last year was a year of many firsts for me: first time in graduate school; first time studying art; first time living in Pittsburgh; first time stealing a frog, but strangely not my first time fighting a pregnant woman.

In an effort to settle in and learn the lay of the land at Carnegie Mellon University, I'd been indiscriminately attending everything on offer. That's how I ended up at artist/ethnographer Eben Kirksey's lecture about his new book, The Multispecies Salon.

All I knew was it had something to do with frogs. Since it was taking place in the Frank-Raytche Studio for Creative Inquiry, I was envisioning a lot of slides. I was not expecting the glass jar containing a large, live frog.

"Okay," I thought as I sat down. "I trust these people, they're artists, they like visual aids; this is probably what this is."

The lecture started. I quickly learned that the evening would include an experiment. Turns out that if you inject this certain kind of frog with the urine of a pregnant woman, it will produce a whole whack of eggs within 24 hours; apparently this was how 1930s medical labs did pregnancy tests. And here it was being resurrected.

Prof. Kirksey asked for a volunteer: "If there are any women here who think they might be pregnant, could they please donate some of their urine?" There was some nervous laughter, but no show of hands. Then, the heavily pregnant wife of the professor for whom I was a teaching assistant volunteered.

As she left the room to fill the plastic container, I started weighing my feelings about animal testing and the use of animals in art. To be clear, I am not an animal-rights activist. I eat meat. I wear fur. I know that our relationship with animals is complicated.

"The fate of the frogs inside the lab is far worse than anything I am about to do," Prof. Kirksey said, and I thought: "But you are still going to do it."

Q&A started, and I asked myself: "Am I really going to sit here while a frog is injected with urine? Am I complicit in this by saying nothing? Can I be dissenting in this new environment? What are the consequences for me academically? What are the consequences to my sense of morality?"

I raised my hand.

I stood up to ask my question, which wasn't really a question: "Um, hi. I didn't really expect to find myself here tonight, but now that I have, I'm really sorry, but I just …" as I spoke I was moving steadily toward the front of the room, "… sorry, but I don't think I can live with myself if I don't, um, at least try to rescue this frog."

At that point I'd picked up the jar containing the frog. As I headed for the exit, I continued: "… and I am going to bet that nobody here is going to stop me!" Nobody moved.

As I was making my escape, somebody yelled, "But it's cold outside!" to which I yelled back, "It's warm at my place!" Then I was out of the lecture and in the hall.

I wasn't privy to what happened after I left, but I'm told that nobody was willing to chase me.

"Aren't you going to go after her?" my professor's pregnant wife reportedly asked him. "No," he said. "She's my TA." "Then I'm going go after her!" the woman declared.

In the hall, I was having difficulty because the jar had no lid and water would splash out if I moved too quickly. I decided to take the stairs. If I could make it to my studio on the fourth floor I could figure out the rest from there.


I looked down from the second flight to see the professor's wife coming after me. I kept climbing. "Don't make me fight a pregnant lady!"

Then she was grabbing for the jar, and I was hugging it close to my body. "You can't fight a pregnant lady!"

"I can't lose a fight to a pregnant lady."

She managed to get her hands inside the top lip of the jar. We wrestled like that, with her pulling down – "I'm heavier than you!" and me pulling up – "You don't have to do the test! I can tell you right now, you're pregnant!"

"Give me back my frog!"

I recognized a few undergraduates on the floor above, and shouted for help. So did the professor's wife. They were confused and ignored us.

"It's my frog," she then told me over the jar. "She lives with us. We have an aquarium for her."

It was becoming clear I was going to lose the fight. She was surprisingly strong, plus she was telling me, "These frogs live up to 30 years."

I let go of the jar. Realistically, I didn't think I could have lived with the frog into my 60s.

She and the frog headed back to the lecture hall, and I went to my studio to calm down.

In my defence, I'll say that sometimes, in the moment, the only tool you have available for decision-making is your intuition. If it's telling you something's wrong, you kind of have to believe it.

The next day I received an e-mail from Prof. Kirksey inviting me to lunch, where he asked me to write about why I stole the frog.

Hannah Epstein lives in Pittsburgh.