Marni Kotak, Artist, Will Give Birth at Microscope Gallery, for Real

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Now that Facebook has decided to publish a timeline that includes all of our online goings-on since birth, we wonder what a tangible chronicle of this would look like. Enter the very pregnant performance artist Marni Kotak, who is transforming the Microscope Gallery into a home-birth center where she will turn the birth of her baby into a work of art. Her exhibit "The Birth of Baby X" kicks off her long-term project "Raising Baby X," which will document her child's upbringing "from birth through attending college and developing an independent life," according to her website. Starting Saturday, she'll be making the gallery home as she waits for the contractions to start (due date is uncertain according to Kotak's doctor, but some time during the span of the next 5 or 6 weeks). Then, she'll have her baby right there with the assistance of a midwife and a doula. As the 36-year-old tells us, "I know it will be challenging, but I think if people give birth in the completely inhospitable environment of hospitals, hooked up to IVs and monitors, and strapped with stirrups into a bed, I can give birth in an art gallery." We dare Mark Zuckerberg to top that! We recently got to ask Kotak some questions about her project.

You've reenacted the funeral of your grandfather and the first time you had sex, and you've stated that you're "most concerned with the question of how one can have and convey a real experience." Can you explain how a performance art experience is different than, say, an onstage performance? A performance art experience is more real than an onstage performance if it possesses a raw immediacy that cannot be captured, and therefore cannot be acted out, as in a work of theater.

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In an onstage play, the performers have scripted lines that they have memorized and they are playing roles. Performance art is essentially closer to real life in that it takes place in fleeting moments that can never be repeated, objectified, or commodified.

In "The Birth of Baby X," I will be completely engrossed in the act of giving birth before a live audience. I will be focused on delivering my child into the world in the healthiest manner possible, rather than on how I look or what the audience may think. Everything I have learned about the birth process is that the more you surrender your mind and don't try to control the event, but let your body do what it naturally knows how to do, the better your labor progresses. This, to me, provides for the most authentic performance art situation. And the ultimate creation of this life performance will be a living being!

Who are some of your influences? My biggest inspirations are the '70s performance artists like Marina Abramovic, Hannah Wilke, Chris Burden, Vito Acconci, and Carolee Schneeman, in which the performances focused on the visceral experience of the body, often testing the limits of human experience.

There is a whole range of artistic practice that can be referred to as performance art. However, I feel that the best performance art takes place when the artist is not trying to perform, but is rather completely immersed in an authentic action.

Most of your art performances deal with real life moments in your life. Why do you think it's so important to capture these moments -- even the mundane ones -- as art? I am driven to hold onto an authentic personal experience in a world that has essentially become consumed by an unreal hyper-reality. When I first graduated from Bard and began performing in New York in the late '90s, art was ironic and driven by semiotics and critical theory, and, with the rapid emergence of "new media," the concept that reality was being replaced by a hyper-mediated simulacrum. As a young woman, I had to believe there was more to life than that. Otherwise, what was the point? I would keep saying to myself in the back of my head: "I have to believe that this life has real meaning and value."

If you weren't making art, what else would you be doing? Ideally, I am always making art, as my art is my life and vice versa. So, I am trying to approach every life situation from that standpoint. In that way, it almost doesn't matter what I am doing, as long as I am staying true to myself and am open to present moment unfolding. Or, in another fantasy, I could be a Russian spy, and my code name would be: Marnitov Cocktail.

Do you think our culture has a fascination with chronicling our every move -- i.e., on Facebook, Twitter, etc.? Do you think it is because people want to make life seem relevant and/or meaningful? I like this question, because I have always had a deep-seated disdain for Facebook. I have an account because it seems to have become an essential communication tool of today, but I use the site solely to stay in touch with friends, who happen to use Facebook, about my upcoming shows and projects. I never log on just to post status updates or such about the details of my life. My life is for me to experience in an authentic way and not for Mark Zuckerberg and the rest of the company's shareholders to make more money from.

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But to answer your question more directly, yes, I do feel that people today are desperately seeking a sense of meaning in their lives. Facebook is feeding into that and providing -- what I see as an ultimately empty -- solution for a hyper-mediated world. What people who spend so much time on Facebook seem to forget is that it is essentially a corporation that is profiting from the nuances of their everyday experiences. Sadly, the more time that people spend on social networking sites and the less time they spend engaging in authentic experiences with friends and family in the real world -- and yes, I do still think there is a real world -- the more they are denying the significance of their own human experience. This in turn leads to a greater sense of desperation to find meaning in their lives, more wasted hours on Facebook, and so on and so forth. It is a vicious cycle.

Do you think reenacting a moment diminishes its actual value? I feel that it is never possible to re-enact a moment exactly. Although the intense nostalgia that is part of what drives my work would like it to be otherwise. I am profoundly aware that every precious moment in my life can never be re-lived, and that ultimately I will cease having life experiences. What does live on, however, are emotional residues, memories, of the original events. And so what I have tried to do in my performance re-enactments is to tap into those emotional residues and, in doing so, serve as a kind of conduit for audience members who have likely had similar or related experiences.

Whatever the case, an attempt to re-enact a life event doesn't diminish its value if it is done through actually going back into what the original experience felt like. The danger is in if one tries to re-create an event by simply re-enacting a scripted set of actions. This would not pay tribute to the original experience, and would yield rather hollow results.

What do you hope people take from your performance at Microscope Gallery? I hope that people will see that human life itself is the most profound work of art, and that therefore giving birth, the greatest expression of life, is the highest form of art. This child is the greatest work of art that Jason and I could ever make together.

So often I find that people overlook how our lives are full of the most amazing, shocking, challenging, beautiful, and disturbing experiences -- far more interesting than anything anyone could put together as a "performance."

My performance at Microscope will begin as I install the show, setting up my own home-birth center in the space, and will span the entire duration of the exhibition. Part of giving birth is the mental and physical preparation for the event. A lot elements go into a traditional home-birth, and I received a whole list of necessary supplies from my midwife. I will be installing an inflatable birthing pool and a shower in the gallery, along with my deceased grandmother's bed, the rocking chair that my mother rocked me on when I was a baby, shag carpeting, a surround video projection of ocean waves crashing on the shores of my favorite Cape Cod beach, artwork made by my husband and the child's father, Jason Robert Bell, and a small kitchen area for food and drinks.

All of these elements are incorporated to make the labor process as smooth and as comfortable as possible. As this will take place in front of an audience, rather than in the privacy of my home, I am doing extra mental preparation at the advice of my doula (who along with my midwife will be present at the birth) to let go of my mind and totally go into my body. She told me that once I really enter active labor the body just takes over and I won't care at all what is going on around me. My focus will be on having my baby. I know it will be challenging, but I think if people give birth in the completely inhospitable environment of hospitals, hooked up to IVs and monitors and strapped with stirrups into a bed, I can give birth in an art gallery. And in giving birth in front of the audience, I am showing them, as in my previous performances, that real life is the best performance art, and that, if our eyes can be opened to it, all of the meaning that we seek is right there in our everyday lives.

"The Birth of Baby X" opens Saturday, October 8, through Monday, November 7 at Microscope Gallery, 4 Charles Place, Bushwick. The hours are extended to 7 days a week, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and, the gallery says, "we will remain open or reopen if the birth is in process." Visitors to the show can get on a list be notified of when she goes into labor. Go to Runnin' Scared for all our latest news coverage.

[ACruz] [@chelipj]


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45 comments
lauralee
lauralee

I wonder if the artist is familiar with the 1960 film, "Peeping Tom."  It could provide some insight into the potential future effects of parental voyeurism.  http://www.criterion.com/films...

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Katherinecparker
Katherinecparker

      I have an MFA from a school and department with a long history of performance art and boundary pushing, and this just leaves me...thinking she contradicts herself (and gawd I detest all the art-speak). She says, "I am driven to hold onto an authentic personal experience in a world that has essentially become consumed by an unreal hyper-reality." Um, so what is making a fake "home" in an art gallery and terming your child's birth a "performance" if not a manufactured hyper-reality? And, the cynical doula in me says that if anything is begging to become an emergent c-section due to _fill-in-the-blank_, it is something like this. What a lot of pressure to have things go a certain way. No thanks.      I am much less disturbed about this as a 'birth choice' than I am about taking a normal human experience and body function and calling it "art." I am all for blurring the boundaries of art and life, but this is just not very interesting to me as an artistic proposition, any more than it would be to say, "Every bite of food I take, every pee I make in the toilet, is a work of art." Oh goody, can I watch that too? We get it, your life = your art = everything is illuminated and so beautiful and special. So, go live it and make it already and be your beautiful existence and go make some yarn bombs while you are at it. But really, I don't need to know about it. On a less jaded note, maybe this performance will make some people awaken to the everyday miracle that is birth...       The quest to document EVERYTHING is another form of grasping and the gimme-gimme-gimme mentality - gimme attnention, gimme permanence, gimme Kodak (in this case Kotak) Magic Moments that I can treasure forever.      At its best, performance art can be transformative and transcendent, just as much as a Vermeer painting or Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate. Take a look at some of Marina Abramovic's work, which is often very much about the body (naked) and transgressing personal space and intimacy. And yet, somehow her work is more rigorous. I think it is a question of her erasure of distance between her and the spectators, making them not spectators, but participants. I guess an equivalent would be if Marni Kotak were to have her baby on the subway platform, not in a gallery with a midwife and a doula, but really, truly to drop the baby in a place where the psychic stakes are high for all involved. What she is doing is keeping a layer of distance between herself and the audience, both by her choice of setting and by having them there only as observers. They have no investment - they are merely voyeurs, observing a spectacle. This has less possibility to transform them than if they were called on to help deliver the baby. Not saying this is necessarily a good or safe idea, but merely pointing out the difference between the very gutsy Marina A.'s work and ethic, and my perception of Marni Kotak's "work" as schtick.

Madison4
Madison4

"Sadly, the more time a mother spends trying to publicize her birth and her minor child's life-- under the guise of artistic expression-- and the less time she spends engaging in authentic experiences with her child in the real world, the more she's denying her child the significance of living their own human experience. This in turn leads the child to a greater sense of desperation to find meaning in their lives, while the mother seeks more wasted hours in the public lime-light displaying the search, and so on and so forth. It is a vicious cycle." (the artist's thought process in the article above, para #10, has been re-worded to include her CHILD'S best interest!)

Dion Rich
Dion Rich

I wouldn't be at all surprised if she decides to shut it down when difficulties present and she feels uncomfortable with the bright lites and audience of strangers! Some women are surprised to find they don't even want Midwife or hubby present during birth - let alone 100 or so strangers! Many complications in the hospital arise from feeling unsafe with staff; the doc on call who is a stranger, new nurses when the shift changes, etc. A first birth can average 24 hrs. easily and a woman can not predict how she will feel when she's actually in the midst of childbirth, through all it's phases. A true home birth happens in soft lighting, complete quiet (she won't be able to control someone coughing in the audience) and is Not a spectator sport/event!! Also her child might object to a camera recording everything.... hopefully they will be able to go to the bathroom/shower in private and who wants to view a sick kid with the flu or diaper changes??

iamdeadlyserious
iamdeadlyserious

This is one step short of rape.  The child has no way to consent to being used as the medium in this unbelievably horrific display of narcissism.

PorkedBun
PorkedBun

I'd probably check this show out but I hope your doula/midwife has the number of a doctor in their cellphone!

Marc S
Marc S

Art requires talent/skill. Motherhood, while requiring much more hard work, does not require either of these. This is not art. It's exploitation. Poor Baby X will be scarred for life from its inception. Hopefully Marni will realize the error of her ways and stop this soon after childbirth. Life is difficult enough without additional pressures coming from the one place that she be safe and supportive, your mother.

Faedin
Faedin

I am amazed that people have such negative things to say about this artist and this installation! First of all, I am sure every precaution will be taken to ensure that the birth is as safe and comfortable as possible. I can't imagine any negative impact on the baby from the experience of being born outside a hospital, and in a worst-case scenario, the best hospitals in the world are all around the corner. Second, birth, like death, is something that we hide behind closed doors in this culture. People treat birth like it is some casual thing - or worse, a gross act or an inconvenience -  when in fact it is the most miraculous thing humans are capable of. This artist is trying to remind us what an amazing thing birth is. That isn't about being a narcissist. It's about taking what should be the most sacred event in human experience and elevating it back to where it belongs - a beautiful and sacred rite. There are so many things we do to our children that are incredibly harmful to them. For the naysayers, go find the companies hiring child laborers, the people who smoke cigarettes around their babies, the perpetrators of physical and sexual abuse, and the people that get angry at their children for not understanding the things that they've failed to teach them - and tell all those people that they are narcissists causing irreparable damage to their kids. Open your minds to the ways in which this could help people see birth in a new light. Or, at the very least, leave this artist alone.

nickzedd
nickzedd

The Brooklyn "performance artist" who plans to give birth at the Microscope Gallery got the idea from me (obviously) since the Microscope Gallery just screened a video I shot of the birth of my son, Zerak in September. I shot the video on May 5th in Mexico City, (documenting Zerak's cesarian birth with mother Monica)  premiered it at Anthology Film Archives in September, then gave the tape to Elle Burchill, director of the Microscope Gallery, who showed it at their anniversary group show. That "performance artist" has a good publicist working for her, but I am the one who introduced child birth as art into the "art world" this year. Usually when I do something it gets copied by ersatz "artists" soon thereafter. This is a perfect example.

Mafalduki
Mafalduki

The point here is not giving birth to a child outside of a hospital. The ethical point is the 'Truman's show' approach to it. She intends to document the child's upbringing "from birth through attending college and developing an independent life". That surely is very questionable. 

VelvetKnight
VelvetKnight

Oy. But at least they're calling it Bushwick and not "East Williamsburg."

Lila
Lila

Lets hope she does not need a C-section!

Pinoa
Pinoa

It would have been very artistic of her if she would have let us see the whole "art" of procreation, if you know what I mean!

Melanie Skonick
Melanie Skonick

As a  Midwife, and someone who has attended thousands of births both in the US and overseas (in Africa and Haiti) I have to say the the medicalization of birth has saved millions of lives. In Haiti for instance, I've seen several  stillborn births.  Here in the US I've attended many, many beautiful homebirths, but there are times that I just have to bring my patients to the hospital. Without that advanced medical care, lives would be jeopardized. Before the medicalization of birth, women died in childbirth, so did babies. That just doesn't happen in this country any longer. Population increase? Yes, because we don't die giving birth any longer. Sorry Marni, but your judgments here show nothing but ignorance.

Victoriafrrrrr
Victoriafrrrrr

This performance reminds me to another: The Doggie Lives, in which the "artist" Guillermo Vargas Habacuc let die a dog of hunger in the gallery National Center of Culture in Costa Rica. In both performances the artist uses an innocent life for whatever with authorities permission, the ok of a gallery (is this culture?) and with the miserable behavior of the visitors who see and keep quiet.

Jester_mad_the
Jester_mad_the

Totally inconsiderate to Baby X.  This is entirely selfish and I hope Karma plays well in her game.

courtneyBolton
courtneyBolton

I also think this is great. It's a small gallery, people. She's giving a natural birth & it's her first one. The baby will be FINE!

C. Love2
C. Love2

I actually think this is great! I thunk more people need to see what birth really looks lime out of the hospital experience. It's bringing to light the beauty and stregnth of a natural birth. I wish her a safe and beautiful experience. I only wish I could be there to see it myself.

Frango
Frango

What a total loon.  I feel so sorry for the poor baby - he/she is being treated as a mere prop in Ms. Kotak's one woman show.  There seems to be very little regard given to the child's health and safety. 

Agnes
Agnes

What a narcissist.  Time to grow up and be a responsible parent.  Your child should come first.

Agnes
Agnes

What a narcissist.  Time to grow up and think like a responsible parent.  Your comes first now.

Marg Wood
Marg Wood

This person is addicted to attention ! She has no consideration for her child and what problems this may cause him or her in the future. It borders on abuse as far as I'm concerned.

songbyrd76
songbyrd76

Quite frankly I have enough dealing with raising my own children to understand the difference between real life & reality TV...I don't find this to be progressive at all...actually its just another "reality show" dsiguised as "performance art" so I'm calling bullshit & I'm so sick & tired of "artists" acting like they are above facebook, yet they use it to force their work down any & everyone's throat....she uses it because she must? Please...get over yourself!  "Baby X" I'm sure that kid is gonna loooove that when she is going through puberty, awkward & uncomfortable & everything she does, says & talks to her mother about is being broadcasted to the whole world! This is NOT real life!

mirele
mirele

To quote the late, great Lance Loud, "Television ate my family." Why does Ms. Kotak insist on dragging her soon-to-be-born child through her performance art? It's not fair to the child to be put on display for the benefit of Ms. Kotak. I really see no difference between what Ms. Kotak and her enabler, Microscope Gallery, are doing and what TLC does by putting 19 Kids and Counting on the boob tube. But then again, I live out in flyover country and I obviously don't have a clue about "high art."

Songbyrd76
Songbyrd76

I don't disagree - out of hospital births can be natural & healthy.  I do disagree with putting a child - who is unable to speak for themselves under a microscope for it's life as "performance art" The fact that she is giving birth naturally, event in front of an audience is fine by me, it's the larger plan - to work the raising of said child into a larger piece of work.

Raising a child is the hardest thing anyone could ever do....doing it in the spot light makes it even more difficult.  Subjecting that child to the open ridicule she, as the artist is receiving right now for her choice, is not cool.  She is old enough to stand up to the naysayers or negative talk but when that talk is directed at an innocent child (and it will be) how will she feel then?  How does she even know this is somethng the child will want in the future.  It seems selfish & self serving....motherhood is not performance art, it's hard, it's wrought with guilt & self doubt....she doesn't know what she is setting herself or that child up for and that is my stand on the subject. As far as the natural child birth GO FOR IT! Good luck & blessings to all!

Customuserdata
Customuserdata

She is sooo right about Facebook. That's why I'm no longer on it.

Crunchyrenee
Crunchyrenee

I bet you are a fantastic MW! I'm glad MWs like you do HBs, and too many are so anti modern medicine they cause deaths.

Faedin
Faedin

There is a big difference between giving life and taking it away.

Wendyeyes
Wendyeyes

Although I agree this is a narcistic event- and not in the best interest of the 'artist' or the child- I wish them only the best and hope for a good outcome.

Essenceofmotherhood
Essenceofmotherhood

but this won't be what birth looks like outside of a hospital. Birth is a private, intimate event and we as mammals need privacy in order for the hormones of labor to kick in and work as they are suppose. This isn't what birth looks like at home at all. I have been attending women at home for 22 years.

Jenoir Spiritwind
Jenoir Spiritwind

births like that are all over youtube.  Lots of them result in a blue, barely breathing baby that needs to be resuscitated by poorly trained midwives.  But anything for attention, hmm?

songbyrd76
songbyrd76

PS - I don't know why I called the baby "she" it could be a "he" sorry for the gender stereotyping!

Faedin
Faedin

I agree with you Songbyrd, that she has to proceed with caution moving forward. It says in the article that she will document the child's life very thoroughly. It doesn't say that the documentation will be publicly accessible. I don't know what her exact plan is, but I think you are right to say that she is going to have to be vigilant about and respectful of the child's right to privacy growing up.

Knieroda
Knieroda

You are very poorly mistaken. You, are the problem with peoples view on out of hospital births. I had a fantastic labor, and know hundreds of women who had the same outcome. Healthy women and healthy pregnancies are extremely safe to perform at home or birth center. Woman who have difficult pregnancies are better candidates for the hospital. Thus, why they are there. Food for thought, my uterus prolapsed during delivery of my child, and I hemorrhaged quite a bit. But guess what, my "poorly trained midwife" took care of the issue in the matter of minutes, and I was right back to cuddling with my new baby, oh, and walking around too. So until you know what the hell your taking about. Shut it. Hospitals are very important and are there,for injury, and sick people. A healthy pregnant woman is neither.

Kitty Lakey
Kitty Lakey

Just food for thought, while I'm not sure about what this lady is doing as far as performance art, out of hospital birth is safe! Studies prove it over and over again. I'm not sure what you are watching on you-tube but I can tell you from personal experience my birth center baby was born 9lbs pink and healthy. She is NOT endangering her child by making the choice to go with the midwifery model of care.

CraigB
CraigB

I'm going to have to step in here.

Lucky? Because her midwife was competent? 

So when doctors screw up, like kill a child (my family's case) that just makes us... unlucky?

Crunchyrenee
Crunchyrenee

Because YOU got LUCKY, it's safe for all?

If you want to talk experience, I have several friends that lost full term, healthy babies due to HB- one was an abruption the MW missed, one had GBS sepsis the MW missed, another had a rupture, and 2 others asphyxiated and are profoundly disabled now. ALL because of HB. This wouldn't have happened in a hospital, and even the MWs admit this.

PLEASE! You can HB if you want to, if you think the risk is reasonable that is your right. But to pretend it is safe because it often goes well is like saying "Im not gonna wear a seat belt because no one I know has ever crashed" .

Just because labor and delivery isn't an illness doesn't mean it's safe.

Crunchyrenee
Crunchyrenee

She is absolutely endangering her child by choosing to HB in a gallery. There are lots of studies, and only ONE, in CANADA, shows Hb safe at all, and the criteria are very strict (no 36 yr old 1st timers!) and the MWs are trained.

ALL the rest of the studies, including stats from states that keep them (CO, WI, MO- collected by the HB MWs!!!) show a death rate of 3-20x higher at home with a CPM/LM. If you don't mind a much higher risk of preventable death, that IS your choice. And f you wanna HB, thats your business, but it IS MUCH more dangerous. Its not cool to lie about this.

It's ma lyfe......!
It's ma lyfe......!

I so, agree the midwifery route is the way to go. At least, they're not trying to cut you up every second they get, because they're lazy doctors. If you want things done in a calmer setting by a professional, look around and get an experienced midwife. 

Songbyrd76
Songbyrd76

I agree, it's not the choice to have her child outside of a hospital setting, I've known many women who choose this & their babies are healthy & beautiful!  As long as proper precautions are taken the baby should come into this world unscathed if blinded by the spot lights & flashing cameras!

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