Microscope Gallery is very pleased to present Raising Baby X: The First Year, a solo exhibition by Brooklyn-based artist Marni Kotak, featuring video, photography, sculpture and multimedia installation works based on a year-long performance re-contextualizing the everyday act of raising a child as performance art, through the eyes of both mother and child. The “Raising Baby X” project was launched last year at 10:17 AM, October 25th, when Kotak gave birth to her son Ajax before an audience at the gallery as part of her exhibit “The Birth of Baby X”, and continues the artist’s more than decade-long practice of presenting real life as the ultimate performance. Inspired by Mary Kelly’s “Postpartum Document”, interpreting the maternal experience as art; Catherine Opie’s “Self Portrait/Nursing; and Linda Montano & Tehching Hsieh’s work fusing art with everyday life, Kotak provides a unique, contemporary approach considering her infant son as an active artistic collaborator. With a critical nod to the spectacle of online social media and the sensationalism of reality TV, Kotak incorporates the actual documentation of the day-to-day activities and highs and lows of parenting into new artworks to comment on such broader themes as memory; achievement; the birth to death continuum; and inability to truly capture the fleeting moments of life.
In the “Little Brother” video collaboration, Kotak routinely equipped Ajax with his own spy camera to record his interactions with family and the world around him, in effect flipping the traditional power imbalance inherent in childhood documentation. Rather than a Truman Show-style approach of oversharing, as some initial press coverage of the Raising Baby X project anticipated, it is also the adults seen through the infant’s perspective who appear vulnerable and exposed.
With a series of large-scale photo montages featuring a nursing Kotak or the baby Ajax blown up to adult-size, their bare skin “tattooed” with snapshots of the child’s first holidays, Kotak continues to use the body as a site to examine how memories are embedded in the psyche. The tension between memory and experience and the complexity of the mother/child bond is evident in these striking images where one is imprinted with moments she will never forget, the other with moments he will never recall.
The value in all human experience – no matter how mundane – and the way success is defined and celebrated has been a prominent concern in Kotak’s works. In Raising Baby X, the subject is addressed through a photo timeline, installed throughout the gallery space, in which the child’s everyday accomplishments are recognized as ‘Major Performances’ (including “Placenta”, “First (Breast) Latch”, and “First Time in the Ocean”) and awarded with custom-made plaques. A huge custom-designed cake also stands ready to be presented to Ajax at his first birthday party, which will take place as a performance at the gallery. As with Kotak’s previous performances the public will be invited to join in person for the celebration.
While birth was the catalyst for Raising Baby X – and the video of the natural birth of Ajax will be on view – the complete life cycle in all its ups and downs, is Kotak’s wider focus. This is most evident in a sculpture containing, among other elements, the ashes of Kotak’s father-in-law (Ajax’s paternal grandfather), who died just 6 weeks after the baby’s birth. In a companion piece, involving 12 small monitors displayed in a gold-leafed curio cabinet beneath a ticking clock, each playing a slideshow of an entire month’s worth of baby photos, Kotak makes very clear that despite the latest technological gains, our attempts to possess our experiences through media are limited.
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MARNI KOTAK is a Brooklyn-based performance artist who makes multimedia works in which she presents her everyday life as art. She recently received international attention in 2011 for her “Birth of Baby X” exhibition in which she gave birth to her first child as a live performance. Kotak’s “Found Performances”, or works based on daily activities, experiences, or accomplishments, include staged re-enactments of her own birth, attending her grandfather’s funeral, losing her virginity in a blue Plymouth, and her wedding. Her works has previously exhibited at English Kills Gallery, Alice Chilton Gallery; and Fountain Art Fair Miami/NYC among others. She is a recipient of a 2012-2013 Franklin Furnace Fund award as well as a grant from the Brooklyn Arts Council. She received a BA from Bard College and an MFA from Brooklyn College.
The works of art in the exhibition were made possible, in part, by the Franklin Furnace Fund supported by Jerome Foundation; the Lambent Foundation Fund of Tides Foundation, and by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.