Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Birth as Art

Last week, I briefly mentioned Brooklyn performance artist Marni Kotak, who was planning to give birth inside an art gallery-turned-birth space. I found a more detailed article about her art installation here at the Mail Online. The article includes several photos of Marni in her gallery, which was fitted out with a shower, birth tub, double bed, and kitchen. I had envisioned this large gallery that could hold hundreds of people, but the space is actually more intimate, with room for about 15 observers plus Marni and her birth team.
image source:

Although giving birth in an art gallery in front of an audience might seem rather disconnected and exposed, Marni has been connecting with her future audience as they visit the gallery and chat with her:
About 20 people a day stop by to talk to Marni or see the free exhibit, which opened on October 8. Visitors can leave contact information if they want to return for the birth.

Marni said her audience 'won't be total strangers.' She said those who spend time talking to her about motherhood, birth and art and learning about the project will be notified when she goes into labor. If she's home at the time, she will go to the gallery.

'I'm developing an authentic relationship with these people,' she said. 'For me, it's like building a community of people who are really interested in this.'...

Jill McDermid, a curator and co-director of the performance art Grace Exhibition Space in Brooklyn, called Marni's work 'daring, challenging and honest.' She said people shouldn't be shocked.

'The audience is very limited. Marni views them as people she can trust, who are interested in her work and in her,' Ms McDermid said.
And just a few minutes ago, a notice came into my Google Reader: Kotak gave birth yesterday morning in her gallery to a baby boy. She will be adding a video of the birth to her installation.

Although my first reaction to the news of Kotak's performance art made me pause, I've been thinking about how it's not so much different from webcasting births (such as Dr. Nancy Salgueiro's recent livecast) or sharing birth videos on YouTube. I personally prefer to place a temporal break between giving birth and sharing the videos. I'm a really private laborer, but having a camera hasn't intruded on that privacy because I had control over when/if to share the footage.

Your thoughts?


  1. I think that sounds unique. The fact that she is getting to know these people who will be attending the birth is more than I ever had. Giving birth in a hospital you do it in front of 3-8 people you don't know! Best wishes to her and would love to hear how it goes!

  2. wow. its a process, its thoughtful, its internal, just like producing art. why not?

  3. I just don't know.
    I like the concept and all but it does involve another person - the baby who can't consent to it.

    granted I did it too - put up my birth videos and blog. But something about making it an art installation that makes me go hmmmmm...

    no real stance for or against just hmmmm...

    I am glad to see natural birth promoted though!

  4. It's done on Kotak's own terms, so I have no problem with it. I agree with LisaJ's comment above; birth ends up being an *unwanted* public performance for a lot of women. Many women I know have commented about all the people that were present at their birth--especially if they gave birth in a university hospital. Multiple nurses, doctors, nurse practitioners, interns, PAs, pediatricians . . .

    I feel very much like I "failed" at giving birth--no transformation, empowerment, calm composure or remarkable self-reliance here. So I'm glad I didn't have an audience; my birth was nothing I was proud of and nothing I'd want to share. But I certainly don't object to someone else giving birth "publicly" nor do I object to the recasting of birth as art.

  5. jakesask, birth is just birth, and it is different for everyone. I didn't feel proud of myself or empowered when giving birth, but it was a transformation because I became a mother to a new little person. That part doesn't change, no matter what kind of birth you had. So please don't be hard on yourself. There is no such thing as failing at birth! It is a process you go through to get the baby safely from the inside to the outside - you just have to go along for whatever ride it will be!


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