Crowning achievement! Artist will give live birth in a gallery

Crowning achievement! Artist will give live birth in a gallery
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

She’s giving the performance of her — or, more accurately, her baby’s — lifetime.

Artists usually give birth to their work in their studios, but Bushwick-based performance artist Marni Kotak is giving birth, literally, as the climax of her month-long exhibition at Myrtle Avenue’s Microscope Gallery.

Kotak conceived of the idea in March, when she found out she was pregnant. Shortly thereafter, she met Elle Burchill, the creator of the newborn gallery, who approached her about giving birth to an exhibition this fall.

Kotak took it literally.

“It was kind of a strange coincidence,” said Burchill. “She said, ‘I’m pregnant.’ And I said, ‘Oh, you should do the birth here.’ And she had already been preparing this idea at the time I said that.”

For the past six years, Kotak has been performing re-enactments of seminal events in her life, including her grandfather’s funeral, her childhood slumber parties, and the time she lost her virginity — complete with her parents’ actual sky-blue Plymouth Acclaim and an appearance by the ex-boyfriend who did the original honors.

Recently, Kotak started incorporating her own life’s events, as they were happening, into her work. Her baby shower coincided with the sprawling Bushwick Open Studios this summer, and she made her wedding a “collaborative art-making performance.”

The consumation and subsequent conception of “Baby X” were the few events in Kotak’s life that were not public.

As such, her birthing performance is easily her crowning achievement.

The voyeuristic exhibit echoes a state fair’s birthing tent, where a cow’s insemination is timed to bear a calf in front of a rapt, corn-fed audience, but Burchill and Kotak believe no one has ever given birth in an art gallery.

“I was really surprised that it had never been done,” said Kotak. “Most performance actions, such as driving a nail through your penis, getting shot, or cutting yourself are pretty self-destructive. But the pain of labor to bring another being into the world is life-affirming.”

Every day for the next five weeks, from 11 am to 6 pm, Microscope Gallery will serve as Kotak’s birthing center, complete with a bed, rocking chair, birthing pool, and a kitchen stocked with food.

A doula will provide Kotak with continuous physical and emotional support throughout her pregnancy, and a midwife will join her when she goes into labor.

Unlike her other performances, squeamish audience members don’t need to worry about participating in the miracle of life. But they can sign up to receive texts and e-mail alerts regarding Kotak’s progress. And they are encouraged to bring salty snacks — you know, for the cravings.

“I like Nutella on rice cakes,” said Kotak. “And potato chips. Any kind. I’m open-minded.”

Burchill and her friends will keep their cellphones on to serve Kotak around the clock and alert people when she goes into labor. Kotak does not know the baby’s gender and has not named it yet, but those surprises will be part of the performance as well.

Her exhibit will last through November — or until Kotak’s contractions start to come every minute or so.

“I have a feeling it’s going to be sooner rather than later,” said Kotak. “It could happen this weekend.”

So bring enough champagne for two.

“The Birth of Baby X” at Microscope Gallery [4 Charles Pl. at Myrtle Avenue and Bushwick Avenue in Bushwick, (347) 925-1433], opening party on Oct. 8, 6–9 pm. www.microscopegallery.com.

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