Performance artist Marni Kotak’s groundbreaking piece, “The Birth of Baby X” — aka the live birth of her first son in a Bushwick studio — is a stunning tour de force that elicits the kind of raw emotional response from the audience that most artists can only dream of.
Two days after the Bushwick artist delivered Ajax, her boy , in front of a small cadre of onlookers at Microscope Gallery, art lovers were still experiencing Kotak’s “crowning achievement,” albeit as a sped-up video replay projected on the wall above the bed and birthing pool.
The five-minute video shows a big-bellied Kotak on the phone with her midwife while the beer-in-hand father, Jason Robert Bell, fills up the inflatable birthing pool. It then it cuts to her totally naked, waddling around the small studio, before getting in the pool, clinging to the sides, and pushing for dear life.
Watching the footage, surrounded by the bloody, post-labor debris in the too-warm room, was intense.
At the very climax of the video — the birth of Baby X itself at 10:17 am last Wednesday — the screen turns black and the battle-worn parents realize that they have just introduced new life into the world.
It’s nine-pounds, two-ounces of damn good art.
You cannot help but be overwhelmed by what Kotak has done: Many artists mimic life, but Kotak made it — and the audience is given a front row seat to what is normally an intensely private and intimate event.
The Charles Place gallery — which had been transformed into a birthing room, replete with pillows emblazoned with photos of family; carpeting; some Texas soil in which to dip the baby’s feet, a Longhorn tradition; a comfy bed; beach photos of a very-pregnant Kotak; and a horrifying painting of a screaming woman — had not been cleaned since the birth.
Bloody rags were strewn on the floor and the bed behind a roped-off area. A mostly empty inflatable birthing pool still contained bloody water. A sickly sweet smell clung to the walls — as did a painting the father had made using the mother’s afterbirth.
It was an intense — and sort of terrifying — scene that forced the spectator to become a part of the piece and became less horrifying the longer you were a part of it.
The artist said the piece was meant to transcend performance and show that “giving birth, the greatest expression of life, is the highest form of art.”
In that, she was a success, said gallery owner Elle Burchill, as Kotak turned her life into art.
“She achieved a state of total oblivion from the constraints of trying to perform,” said Burchill.
But Kotak’s artistic delivery, as it were, was interpreted differently — depending on whose eye was doing the beholding.
“My grandmother gave birth to nine children, and it wasn’t a big deal,” said Yelena Milskaya of Bushwick, who was there to view the art on Friday. “If someone dubs something ‘art,’ and [the viewer] appreciates it as art, then it’s art.”
Kotak is no stranger to opening up in public. Her previous works include “Sunny Blue Plymouth,” which featured a recreation of her first sexual experience, complete with the titular Plymouth Acclaim in which it occurred, and “My Birth,” where she recreated her own birth in front of an audience.
Here’s hoping that in Kotak’s future artworks, the kid stays in the picture.