Marni Kotak is ramping performance art up a notch. In just a few weeks, she will publicly deliver her first child inside Bushwick’s Microscope Gallery.
The name of the project is “The Birth of Baby X.” Inside the gallery, Kotak designed the room in which she will give birth, and filled it with her personal possessions. This exhibit is the culmination of 10 years of work dedicated to recreating real moments in Kotak’s life. In past pieces, the artist has publicly reenacted her own birth, the loss of her virginity, her grandfather’s funeral, and numerous other life changing events. “I feel that the best performance art takes place when the artist is not trying to perform, but is rather completely immersed in a real life action,” she said. “It is only in these moments that we are capable of transcending the issues of spectacle that have come to dominate performance art and much of contemporary culture.”
Kotak and her husband, artist Jason Robert Bell, recorded separate videos in which they wore video spyglasses on their honeymoon. The videos were incorporated into “The Birth of Baby X,” and are being synched together on display at the gallery. “The footage is an interesting document of how two individuals who share an experience will ultimately take in different views of the same event,” she said. “There are also moments when our perspectives intersect, such as when we are talking to each other or when we kiss.”
Photographs, videos, and paintings by Bell are also featured in the project, as well as a video starring Kotak in a performance at Lumen Festival this past summer. She took footage of audience members at the festival, projecting their faces onto her belly.
The exhibition, understandably enough, has gained national media attention, and Kotak has been both criticized and praised for her work. Performance art has always had a controversial reputation, as its artistic merits are usually not easily understood. The artist, however, said she wasn’t expecting this sort of reaction. “I have been very surprised by all of the media attention. I am doing some interviews and trying to postpone as many as possible until after the birth so that I can focus on preparing for delivery.”
The delivery will take place within the next few weeks, and a doula, midwife, and Bell will assist Kotak. The gallery is even extending its hours for the event to get ready for its occurrence.
Instead of recreating events, Kotak has taken performance art one-step further, truly breaking the barrier between art and reality. Despite the criticisms and attention she’s gotten for her work, she said, “So far the experience has been real life: Exciting, challenging and full of surprises.”
The message Kotak is trying to get across perhaps explains why she chose to partake in this performance piece: “Human life is the most profound work of art,” she said. “I think we should all embrace the whole spectrum of life experience: the painful, pleasurable, beautiful, disgusting, scary and magnificent. Birth contains all of them.”