Birth is both intensely private and unnervingly public, as nurses and doctors march in and out of a woman’s hospital room, poking, prying, checking. There can be — shhh — poop involved. And, of course, the vagina — which most women have spent their lives covering up — plays a starring role.
Now comes Marni Kotak, who intends to elevate the private-public dichotomy to a new level, giving birth to her first child in Brooklyn. In an art gallery. Where you can watch.
“…By giving birth in public, I can bring to light something that our society clearly has many issues surrounding,” wrote Kotak in an e-mail. “It troubles me when I hear women speak disdainfully about their own bodies, especially when it involves birth, as that is truly women’s greatest power.”
At Microscope Gallery, the stage is quite literally set for what the gallery’s website calls a “durational performance culminating in an actual birth.” Kotak, 36 and eight months pregnant, has fashioned a cozy birthing nook, anchored by her grandmother’s bed and rocking chair and a birthing tub. A midwife and doula will assist Kotak, and there’s a hospital right down the road, just in case.
To clarify, Kotak’s labor and delivery won’t be a free-for-all. “It will be a small group of people that have all come out to the gallery and spent some time getting to know me and talking to me about the exhibit,” wrote Kotak. “It is important for me that I and my support team are comfortable with all of the people who will be in the audience so that I have the best birth experience for the health of the baby, myself and everyone present.”
It’s unclear when Kotak is actually due, but she’s given herself a one-month window of time; “The Birth of Baby X” is set to run from Oct. 8 to Nov. 7. Until labor kicks in, Kotak will flit in and out of the gallery, psyching herself up for “her most profound and physically challenging performance” yet. That’s saying a lot, considering Kotak’s previous performances: her own birth, being forced to wear a dunce cap on a third-grade field trip and the act of losing her virginity in a blue Plymouth.
“The Birth of Baby X,” incidentally, is just Act One. Kotak intends to track her child’s development in an installation entitled “Raising Baby X” that “re-contextualizes the everyday act of raising a child into a work of performance art…”
Kotak, who has been overwhelmed by media interest in her project, emphasizes that she’s just an artist with a job to do, which, according to the gallery’s website, is to “avoid the spectacle often involved in performance art to reach what is real.”
Birth is real, for sure. Real painful. Real unpredictable. Real messy. Almost surreal, in fact, while I watched via a bedside mirror as my youngest daughter was born.
It was completely transcendent and an image I will keep with me always. Would I want to share it with the general public? Not a chance.