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A Labor of Art: If a Baby is Born in a Gallery, is it Art?

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?

Read more: Babies, Blogs, Caregiving, Children, Family, Love, Parenting at the Crossroads, Pregnancy, Sex, Uncategorized, Women's Health, , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


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12:34PM PST on Nov 24, 2011

personally, i wouldn't like strangers to watch me while giving birth, but each to their own..

9:14PM PDT on Oct 27, 2011

Ajax Kotak Bell was born at 10:17am EST on October 25, 2011. i am his patnal grandmother and he certainly is a work of art to me. i think most grandmother feel that way about theirgrandchild. He is beautifu and healthy and I think Marni made a bold feminist statement in choosing to counter many taboos that still exist in our society regarding sexuality and reproduction. All anyone needs to be concerned about really is the health and well being of Ajax and his loving parents. Deborah Bell

5:19PM PDT on Oct 27, 2011

Well having a baby is always art . no need to have it in a Gallery to make it art..

11:04AM PDT on Oct 22, 2011

every baby born is art. It's her call, I don't even see the point of judging this. If you aren't one is making you watch.

11:08PM PDT on Oct 12, 2011

Art seems to have lost its definition with so many "forms" being considered art. I think birth is an art form of sorts, more like an amazing event that defies description. But I don't think it needs an audience of strangers, in fact I think that diminishes it. I don,t think Live birth performance art coming to New York gallery is a good idea. With an audience of people you choose and want to be there, I'm sure it's a thing of beauty. In spite of the pain and everything else.

11:13PM PDT on Oct 10, 2011

*sigh* All life is art. The human body is art. So is the miracle of birth. Making a mockery out of the birthing process in the name of art is still mockery. NOT art.

5:55AM PDT on Oct 9, 2011

Its one thing to educate, but this is just exploitation to me.

12:11AM PDT on Oct 9, 2011

I think they're just trying to trump Marcel Duchamp's 'Fountain'.
There've been a hell of a lot artists trying to do that for almost 100 years now.

11:37PM PDT on Oct 8, 2011

I understand Wes's anger. I'm a poet and it frustrates me too when other "poets" mess up poetry.
Look, if people are seriously thinking of childbirth as art, then thats up to them, I just hope this mom doesnt end up regretting her decision since 'shit happens'.

1:10PM PDT on Oct 8, 2011

Is there no privacy any more?

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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Interesting ideas. Not sure if I could do the whiskey, though!

Thanks for sharing.

I don't care for this type of treatment towards another human being. Thanks for posting.


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