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Realer than life: Birth as Performance Art

By Katarina Hybenova

By Katarina Hybenova

Bushwick’s Microscope Gallery will bring an extraordinary real life performance piece opening this Saturday October 8, 2011. Bushwick-based artist Marni Kotak will give birth to her first child in the gallery. As I had about 500 questions about the concept, and about technical execution of the piece, I stopped by at Microscope to chat with Marni.

Microscope is a small but bold gallery located just behind the popular café Little Skips. When I arrived Marni and her husband Jason were just setting up the gallery space in order to make it suitable for Marni to give birth. “Is it going to be a boy or a girl?” I ask the first question that came to my mind, although I wasn’t planning it. Marni says they didn’t want to know, so for the moment it is just Baby X. “We will name it once it’s born. “ says Marni.

The gallery looks nothing like I am used to. It looks like a perfect homebirth room. Marni points out to me three important objects: her deceased grandmother’s bed, the rocking chair, her mother rocked her on when she was a baby, and an inflatable birthing pool.

“Will you give birth in the pool?”

“Maybe, I will see.” says Marni.

Marni doesn’t know when exactly the baby will be born. The month-long exhibition is set around her due date, although according to her own words she feels it might happen on the opening night. The gallery will run on extended hours from 11am to 6pm, and Marni will spend some time there every day. She lives just around the corner, so even if it comes in the middle of the night, she can easily come. Marni doesn’t want the crowds to come; it’s also not very practical as the gallery is really small. Marni will be assisted by a mid-wife and doula.

Marni says that the performers of the 70s, whose pieces were incredibly raw, have inspired her. There is nothing rawer that life itself, and she considers life to be art. Marni previously created performance pieces stimulating moments of her life such as domestic abuse scene, but also her grandfather’s funeral, or loosing of her virginity. During Bushwick Open Studios she would invite people over and make them dinner. Marni says that while those pieces simulated life, the actual birth of a child will be the ultimate performance piece, the real life.

There is also another aspect to the piece. “Birth is such a beautiful thing, but it is a taboo in our society.” People don’t like to talk about it; they don’t want to see it. “But what can be more magical than seeing a child being born.”

I have to agree with Marni. It is curious that the reaction of most of my friends, including myself was, that I wouldn’t like to see a birth.

Marni continues that her hospital experience even shows that it’s hard to give natural birth, and one third of all women have Caesarean section, which isn’t always necessary and definitely not natural. “In the hospitals, they have birthing tubes, but they don’t use them, because they are afraid that the baby would drown.”

The strong motive of Marni’s performance is to show that natural birth is possible and beautiful.

Month-long durational performance piece Marni Kotak: The Birth of Baby X opens on Saturday, October 8 (6-9pm) and will run until November 7 at Microscope Gallery, 4 Charles Pl. Bushwick.

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