October 7, 2011

And Now For My Next Performance Art Piece...

I'm sorry, did I say the previous post about Marni Kotak was the culmination of everything Daddy Types has been working towards since 2004? I meant THIS post.

Surfing through Bushwick performance artist Marni Kotak's website, I learned that immediately after completing "her most profound and physically challenging performance," The Birth of Baby X, she will begin her next performance, a feat of phenomenal endurance she's calling Raising Baby X.

Though it's dated 2011, Raising Baby X will actually be an ongoing performance, spanning "the child's life from birth through attending college and developing an independent life." Which, well, those are presumably just two of many mutually independent endpoints. Keep it open-ended, right? If not exactly a chance operation.

kotak_raising_baby_x_onesie.jpg

Raising Baby X: The First Year, however, is its own thing, "the first year of an ongoing performance art project in which I present the everyday act of raising my child as a work of art." What will that entail, exactly?

Various aspects of raising the child will be taken into consideration such as food, education, clothing, the child's room, healthcare, playtime, travel, safety, discipline, entertainment, and simply loving the child. In addition, I will write and publish an anthology of memoirs about my experiences with motherhood, containing journal entries, photo documentation, and discourse on current social issues relevant to the project and facing all mothers today, such as whether or not to vaccinate a child [uh, ?!? -ed.] how to support your child's education, school nutrition, the influence of the media, and how to balance work and family life.
Yes. Kotak includes a link to make a tax-deductible donation to the performance, under the non-profit umbrella/sponsorship of Fractured Atlas. And by all means, everyone should. Though frankly, I wonder about the non-profit thing. That list of spin-off merchandise is very enticing, and I'd be first in line to start collecting performance-related ephemera, editions, and artist books. Maybe it's not too late to move the project to Kickstarter.

But. Let's step back and look at this as-yet-unrealized performance piece in the larger context for a minute. Because, well, I do have some familiarity with the now-intertwined issues of contemporary art and parenting as public performance.

First, the art. It's understandable that Kotak cites the influence of Burden, Wilke, Acconci, and Schneeman for her Birth of Baby X piece; these artists made crucial, early performance work that focused on the limits and experience of the body, and I imagine that nothing heightens the artist's awareness of her own body like having another being growing inside it, and then delivering it, moving it along a spectrum of existence from singularity, duality, and dependency to autonomy.

ppd_mary_kelly_wack.jpg

It still feels impossible, though, to consider the performativity of birth and motherhood/parenting outside of the larger patriarchal framework the culture imposes. These are still gendered activities, but only the former is biologically or physically determined as such. By electing to treat raising her kid as an artistic as well as a familial endeavor, Kotak will be revisiting the questions of public vs. private labor raised in the 1970s by foundational feminist artists such as Mary Kelly and Mierle Laderman Ukeles. Kelly's multi-year masterpiece, Post-Partum Document [detail above via], analyzed issues of gender difference, nostalgia and subjectivity as they presented themselves in the rearing of her son. Ukeles' Maintenance Work pieces, meanwhile, forefronted the persistent inequities faced by those [women] whose domestic and/or invisible labor was crucial but unremunerated.

Kotak's anticipated field, that of the self-reflective parent creating and sharing content about and ruminating on the experience of raising a kid, is, let's face it, pretty damn crowded already. Parents from the Berenstains and Ozzie and Harriet and every self-appointed parenting advice guru to the former celebrities like Tori Spelling who become parent celebrities have been pimping out their kids' foibles for a paycheck. The fact that civilian celebrities like Dooce or Neal Pollack get any grief for it is directly related to the ease with which millions of folks now can kvetch about it on their own parentblogs. And anyway, Facebook has turned everyone into producers and consumers of endless streams of once-private content.

The only real difference here comes from Kotak's decision to insert her parenting activity into the art world discourse as product, not excuse for not producing. Or maybe it's laying a performance art context onto the daily grind and magic of raising a newborn. Either way, it'll be a combination of revelatory, first-time discovery and "been there, done that, welcome to the club." But that's just the way it is, for art and parenting both; once you find yourself in the situation, you can't not do it. So you try to be aware enough of what's come before that you don't make [all] the same mistakes or fall into [all] the same patterns.

From my own experience, I can confess it's pretty damn hard to juggle parenting and art- [or whatever-] making. In 2005, I had my commercial gallery debut in a show about teh art system itself called "Regarding Clementine," curated by art dealer-turned-Gawker editor Choire Sicha at the fondly remembered Clementine Gallery:

Each of the 12 artists or collectives in the show will create
new work for (or during) the exhibition. Their work has to do, ultimately,
with how art objects get made and priced and bought and viewed and curated
and reviewed and, of course, gossiped about. Performances will occur
irregularly, and work will be made in the gallery and during the course of
the show.
At the time, the kid was just turning one, and I was trying to balance raising her while working at home on my short film series. Choire had wanted me to bring the kid and come log tape and edit in the gallery, basically perform as an artist-with-kid.

I tried to make it down on at least a semi-regular schedule, a couple of workday afternoons during the month of the show. But invariably, something woud come up. Or the kid'd be sick, or we'd get down there, set up the table with my computers on it, and work for like an hour on a Thursday, and like one person would stop by. it felt like I was, without quite asking, asking the gallerists to entertain my adorable child while I got some work done. It felt awful and unproductive and like I'd let everybody down by not "activating the space" better with my cool parenting tricks. Which, in a failed sort of way, could be interpreted as a success.

So good luck to Marni and Baby X, and I hope their performance challenges the patriarchal hegemony by involving Baby Daddy X, too.

Marni Kotak | Raising Baby X: The First Year [marnikotak]

2 Comments

You more or less said what we were all thinking: It's hard enough to keep your damned toenails trimmed while bringing up baby. Does Kotak have the cops to pull this off? Was she, say, a Navy SEAL?

Oh, wook at the cutwe widdwe website she's done. Actually, she's kinda hot. Didja notice her Flickr stream? http://www.flickr.com/people/51109683@N02/

Any chance of the first image as a maternity mu-mu? It fits in well with the DT line of clothing.

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