A Labor of Art: If a Baby is Born in a Gallery, is it Art?
When I was around 6-years-old (back when even the most surreal aspects of life seemed somewhat commonplace) my aunt was pregnant with her second child (my soon-to-be cousin). At this point in my young life, pregnancy and babies were hardly a foreign or unfamiliar concept. I may have even had some cursory knowledge of how babies were made, etc. But this soon to be cousin arrived with a level of fanfare that was unprecedented. As a courtesy to latch-key kids everywhere, the ABC Network introduced socially relevant afterschool television programming in an effort to impart life lessons onto young minds. These were called ABC Afterschool Specials, and my soon to be cousin (as well as my aunt) were the subject of one particular episode titled, “My Mom is Having a Baby.” In this televised, one-hour, special, I not only got to see my pregnant aunt try to act, but I (along with the rest of the American home audience) got to witness the messy miracle of the birth of my cousin. At the time this was semi-revolutionary for a television show; for me it was somewhat entertaining, as I thought there would be more televised programming about my yet-to-be born family members (sadly there were not). Was it television history in the making? Probably more like a footnote in progressive children’s programming. Was it a piece of radical performance art? Most definitely not!
The reason I bring all of this up is because, starting October 8th in a Brooklyn art gallery, the miracle of pregnancy and birth will be on full display for all to witness. Not unlike the aforementioned ABC Afterschool Special, this gallery piece, “The Birth of Baby X” by artist (and soon to be mother) Marni Kotak consists of an “installation | video | durational performance culminating in the actual birth of the artist’s child. As the press release states, “The Birth of Baby X will be her most profound and physically challenging performance.” (Uh…yeah!)
The press release goes on to explain:
“During the month, Kotak will often be present in the gallery preparing mentally and physically for the event, which will be assisted by a mid-wife and doula. The exhibit also includes videos of related performances—including “You are My Baby”, performed at Lumen Festival this summer, in which Kotak videotaped the audience and projected their faces onto her belly; sculptures and other objects; and personal artworks by Kotak’s husband and artist Jason Robert Bell. Remnants from the final days of pregnancy and the birth will be added to the exhibition as it progresses.”
Now anyone who has stood at the precipice, right on the divide between career ambitions and parenting, understands how daunting it could be to move between those two worlds. And artists (especially women artists) have an especially challenging time lending the necessary time, passion, and energy to both pursuits. So I applaud Kotak for creatively trying to integrate the two, but I have to ask…when does the performance end and the parenting begin? Without casting aspersions on anyone involved in the project, is the intention behind this performance just a tad prosaic, and maybe a bit exploitative? Or is the act of bringing birth, and the birthing process into the realm of the art gallery and communal event something worth participation and attention? What is your feeling on this project? Objectionable? Enlightening? Daring?