A lot of art is created under the influence of drugs — this piece is attempting the opposite.
On July 18, performance artist Marni Kotak will start gradually weaning herself off the psychiatric medication she has been taking for the past two years. It will be done under supervision from her psychiatrist — but also under the gaze of the public eye, as Kotak is turning the experience into a performance installation at Microscope Gallery in Bushwick.
This is not Kotak’s first slice-of-life performance. In 2011, she famously gave birth to a healthy baby boy in a gallery, as a gaggle of people watched and the media snapped photos. Kotak’s husband subsequently made a painting with the afterbirth.
Reporter Danielle Furfaro caught up with Kotak to find out what life is like when life is art.
Danielle Furfaro: What inspired you to do this project?
Marni Kotak: As I don’t clearly delineate between my life and my art, whatever I am focused on in my present life becomes the content of the art exhibition I am simultaneously working on. Right now I am dealing with how to be a whole person in today’s crazy world, without just taking a pill to numb myself. Not an easy task for anyone, I would say.
This is real endurance art, finding a way to be truly happy, centered, fulfilled in a world that doesn’t really support art or real life, that is focused on profit, rather than people.
DF: I understand that you suffered from postpartum depression. What has your life been like since the birth of your child?
MK: It’s really wonderful and very busy. It has been a little difficult balancing everything as a working mother. As for the medical system, my experience in the hospital was very traumatic for me and not one I’d like to relive. Follow up treatment has been problematic. I am addressing these struggles through my work in this upcoming exhibition.
DF: What meds are you currently on? Why did you decide to get off them?
MK: The medicines I’m dealing with are Klonopin, Wellbutrin, and Abilify. Medicines, as you know, can have serious side effects. I know that medication works for some, especially in short term acute treatment situations. But there is conflicting evidence on whether or not long-term treatment is actually beneficial, and I am concerned about the risk of side effects growing the longer I take them, so I don’t want stay on meds indefinitely.
DF: I know you intend to make videos, photography, and sculptures. Will you also be doing things in person in the gallery?
MK: Yes, there will be videos, photography, and sculptures and also I am transforming the gallery, like I did with the birth, into a place where I feel comfortable and calm, this time to get mentally healthy and detox from psychiatric meds.
I will be resting, exercising, writing in my journal, meditating, and talking to family, friends, and gallery visitors that I welcome into my intimate space. What I want to show through my performance is an alternative to the hospital model (which, from my experience, was about staying in bed, being quiet, and being evaluated by doctors who were dispensing pills) — one that is more active, empowering and involves authentic communication.
DF: What are you hoping that the audience will learn?
MK: My performance is taking place in real-time it is real life. Hopefully the performance is helpful for others to see that it is possible to be involved in our own treatment, to remember that we are not a diagnosis, despite the prevalence of people prescribed drugs for mental health issues.
“Mad Meds” at Microscope Gallery [4 Charles Pl. at Myrtle Avenue in Bushwick, (347) 925–1433, www.microscopegallery.com]. July 18–August 25 at various times, to be announced. Opening July 18 at 6 pm. Free