Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Life as art

I expect the blogosphere has already been going crazy with this one. But it does raise some interesting issues...

As you've probably heard, performance artist Marni Kotak is planning to give birth in front of a live audience at Microscope Gallery in Brooklyn.

Not surprisingly, The Birth of Baby X has seen the artist accused of "narcissism", of “exploiting” her baby and even of child abuse.

Kotak says she sees the performance as an assertion of authentic personal experience in a world that has become consumed by an unreal hyper-reality. "As an artist, I am most concerned with the question of how one can have and convey a real experience. I believe that our most intriguing performances occur when we are not aware that we are performing."

More specifically, she says "The Birth of Baby X" is about "addressing the assumptions about the way birth in our culture is viewed".

"I hope that people will see that human life itself is the most profound work of art, and that therefore giving birth, the greatest expression of life, is the highest form of art,” she told the Village Voice.

She is also planning a post-birth conceptual art project, dubbed "Raising Baby X", which will "help us think about and develop a greater respect for the intricacies of child rearing".

Hmm. Well, I guess that's one way of keeping your creativity going: just turn everyday life into a performance.

But why does living need to be a public act? And is it really art?

I have to admit, I've never been entirely comfortable with the notion of giving birth as the ultimate creative act. Of course, it is the ultimate act of creation. Amazing, yes. And profound. But the incredible beauty and wonder and mystery of nature is something that exists in and of itself. Plants will still be sending out their seeds and animals will still be giving birth whether humans are there to witness it or not. Surely art is our response to this world we find ourselves in.

As for Marni Kotaks' performance: What does it say about our desire to always be on show in order to create meaning in our lives? Does this only take us further away from being present, in our own body and our own life, or do you dig her idea of letting it all hang out in public?

Certainly life doesn't get more real than when you're giving birth. And if there's ever a time when you're going to turn inwards and lose all self-consciousness, it's while birthing.

Though I wonder if that will be true of Marni Kotak...

16 comments:

sister outlaws said...

I wonder what the child will think of her public birthing when she is older? I also hope it is a smooth uncomplicated birth - it can be - but it can also be such a fraught and dangerously unpredictable process!

Rachel Power said...

Yes, I've wondered that too. Does it stop being art if something goes wrong?!

Penni Russon said...

It is a very strange response to your first pregnancy isn't it? I became increasingly private and reclusive in my pregnancies; I totally get why cats have kittens in cardboard boxes in the back of the cupboard.

Though having said that my cat gave birth in the middle of the loungeroom with half a dozen people watching on (we had friends over for drinks). So maybe there is a bit of exhibitionism in all of us. (She purred through the whole thing. It was very reassuring.)

I am curious about how this plays out, and yes, I've wondered about intervention too - it's the ultimate Birth Plan - and most of us abandon or at least modify our birth plans as the idea of birth is taken over by the blood and muscle of it. I wish her well. It's an intriguing social experiment, but I'm not sure it's art.

blogafi.org said...

This is her first time giving birth? She has no idea what she's doing, poor darling. The idea of doing it as performance art would have far more credibility if she actually knew what she was getting herself in to. - Rochelle

Rachel Power said...

Ha ha, isn't it funny that all us mums go: 'Ah, poor dear, she has no idea what she's getting herself into!' I totally agree, Rochelle.
Perhaps she is happy to compromise her own birthing experience in the name of art. Though I wonder if she understands that yet.
I also agree, Penni, that it is more social experiment than artistic performance. And maybe, on that front, it's more interesting.
I have to say, though, I've attended a few births and they are a long slog. I wonder how much of the audience will stick around. Probably just nick off to the pub and come back in time to see the baby's arrival -- much like the dads of previous generations! ;)

Damon Young said...

However shocking or confronting it is, she'll call it 'art'.

It's all art: art, art, art'.

But its aesthetic value will probably be quite low...

Melita said...

You know what? I think it will be really boring. At my pre-natal classes there was a speaker who was supposedly the first woman in Australia to have her birth filmed and presented as a documentary. She is a doula and birth guru, but I can't remember her name! And she did it in the 70s.

And I don't understand the artist's statement about our greatest performances happening when we are not performing. Then it's not a performance - it's just living.

I agree with you that the idea of giving birth being "the highest form of art" is codswallop.

I think this is a great post, thanks.

sister outlaws said...

Having a baby is so abstract before it happens – even in pregnancy – perhaps most heightened in pregnancy. I remember thinking I was going to listen to my Michael Nyman soundtrack (on cassette!) during the birth of my first child and when it came down to it I couldn’t’ have cared less what I was listening to. As for raising baby X as an ongoing art work - this seems to me so contrary to the reality of being a mother. Being a mother isn’t about you or your creativity and your art – it’s about the child and the child’s needs. I remember finding this divide between my creative identity and my role as a mother very difficult to bridge when I had my first child as a 21 year old art student. Now, many years and another four children later, I think that Marni Kotak might find that when she’s a mother and gets the time and space to do something the creative she will want it to be about something other than the child! Exploring motherhood through art is a worthy subject – but this approach seems a bit short sighted and dare I say – not that interesting.

Rachel Power said...

Damon, do you think it will be that shocking or confronting? The fact is, most parents witness the birth of their babies nowadays and there are birthing videos aplenty for those interested enough to check one out. I think there's a bit of a gap between her acts and her professed intentions. As you suggest, she seemingly turns all the major events of her life into art projects. Her wedding become "The Wedding"... I find her spiel about her follow-up project more disturbing. Tracking the raising of a child through school, college and beyond. Hmm, is she just planning to record her own experience of that or is she expecting her child to be the public subject of his/her mother's artistic experiment?

Damon Young said...

I agree, Rachel. I meant if it goes horribly wrong, etc

Whether it's banal or disastrous, she'll just call it 'art'.

Rachel Power said...

So it seems...

Sally Rippin said...

Personally, I think the greatest conundrum of this decade has been how the Socrates quote "the unexamined life is not worth living" has been woefully misinterpreted. Ie; not everything needs to be made public to be meaningful.

Rachel Power said...

Yes, I would think Socrates meant the very opposite of the kind of exhibitionism we're talking about. Some self-reflection needed, perhaps?

bouncae said...

I am curious about how this plays out, and yes, I've wondered about intervention too - it's the ultimate Birth Plan - and most of us abandon or at least modify our birth plans as the idea of birth is taken over by the blood and muscle of it. I wish her well. It's an intriguing social experiment, but I'm not sure it's art.

http://powerconvert.blogspot.com

David said...

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Nice post! I just loved the title "Life as art" 'cause is truly right. We are the artist, the designers of our own life

AmeliaDraws said...

hey has this happened yet? :) all the questions of narcism/exhibitionism/art aside i went straight to the "oh honey...." response of a woman who has done it. it just strikes me as niavety. An overblown example of the naivety we all have before birth: maybe she is unwittingly createa bigger piece of art then she intends... i mean outside (or inside) of the actuall birthing of a little child is the seismic shifts that will occur to her, the ones beyond anticipation....
Still labour is a hugely introverted/all consuming state from the inside of the experiance and generally boring, longwinded and mildy gruesome show from the outside (yup been to a few) with the wonder of the child blossoming in those who will intimately share in it.... and those qualities in a "piece" make it sound like bad art to me