Marni Kotak Turns Giving Birth Into Performance Art

The Birth of Baby X, 2012 digital video, color, sound 4 minutes 30 seconds

The Birth of Baby X, 2012 digital video, color, sound 4 minutes 30 seconds

Marni Kotak, “Surviving 6 Karpas (Beth Israel Psych Ward)”, 2014, photographic plaque, 40 x 24 inches (detail)

Marni Kotak, “Surviving 6 Karpas (Beth Israel Psych Ward)”, 2014, photographic plaque, 40 x 24 inches (detail)

All the Meds I Took

All the Meds I Took

Marni Kotak is off her meds. At least, she’s aiming for that. Prescribed a potent mixture of psychotropic medications in 2012 for her port-partum depression, Kotak’s latest work of performance art, “Marni Kotak: Mad Meds,” features her attempt to wean herself off medication.

Kotak’s 2011 work, “The Birth of Baby X,” was the literal progenitor of “Mad Meds,” culminating in the birth of Kotak’s son Ajax in front of an audience in the gallery space. This controversial exhibition was meant to “convey the authentic experience of [her] life as it is being lived, simultaneously engaging with audience members who become active participants in the actual events unfolding,” Kotak says. “The Birth of Baby X” was followed up by “Raising Baby X” (2011-ongoing), “Postpartum Depression” (2012), “Raising Baby X: The First Year” (2012), “Ajax’s First Birthday Party” (2012), “Raising Baby X: Playtime!” (2013), “Raising Baby X: Family Jam Session” (2013), and “Raising Baby X: Little Brother” (2012-ongoing). Is involving her son in her performances from literally the moment of his birth exploitive? What will it be like for Ajax when he’s old enough to realize that his childhood has been a public spectacle in the name of art?

“Mad Meds” does not involve other people in the performance, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not without its own complex issues.

The 6-week durational performance exhibition and installation finds Kotak addressing her personal struggles with her own mind, the US medical system, and the pharmaceutical industry as she attempts to withdraw from psychiatric medicines prescribed as follow-up treatment for post-partum depression more than two and a half years ago. (Source)

Depression can be agonizing; depression after childbirth can be especially isolating in its opposition to the socially acceptable construct of happy new mommy. Of course, Kotak is completely within her rights to wean herself from her medications if she feels that they’re not working correctly, or if the side-effects have become too overwhelming, or if she just wants to. Naming the 10-foot trophy in the work “Med-free and Happy,” though, has implications about psych meds and depression that go far beyond her performance. If Marni Kotak is able to publicly stop taking psychiatric medication as a work of art, that would be a personal act that she has chosen to share, as she did the literal moment of her son’s birth. If Marni Kotak is using her art to suggest that it is some kind of achievement to stop taking meds, the many, many people who are thankful every day that they are functioning and whole and able to live their lives because of the medication they take may have a different point of view.

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Damien Hirst’s New Pill-Shaped Jewelry Line

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Artist Damien Hirst is a polarizing figure in the art world. Hugely prolific, Hirst has been called both an inspiring innovator and a wealth-obsessed marketer. His new collection of jewelry, Cathedral Collection, from Hoorsenbuhs and Other Criteria supports both of these roles: with prices up to £43,200 ($68,000) for a single piece, buyers are paying for the materials and the concept.

The Cathedral Collection consists of “Pill Ring,” a cocktail ring of piled precious metal pills, some visibly filled with rubies and black and white diamonds, and “Pill Rosary,” a variation of the traditional Catholic string of beads. Where the cross would typically sit is instead a Hirst pill, opened and spilling out its literally precious contents. The collection is a limited edition of 25 pieces per design.

Hirst’s focus over the years has continually returned to pharmaceuticals and their role, literally and symbolically, in our lives. His first Pill Cabinet in 2007, “Standing Alone on the Precipice and Overlooking the Arctic Wastelands of Pure Terror,” includes thousands of resin pill replicas displayed on its shelves. He pursed this topic through at least 17 more Pill Cabinet installations, removing the pills from their therapeutic context in order to make new connections with content.

The aesthetic allure of the pills is rendered useless in the face of their unknown medical purpose; Hirst’s suggestion being that their power relies on an unquestioning belief that somehow our ills will be cured.

In 2007 Hirst re-imagined the pills from the cabinets as a limited edition Pill Charm Bracelet, which he sold through his website. 2011 saw Pill Cufflinks.

In this newest collection, the Pill Ring could be a cocktail party conversation starter. The Pill Rosary, though, with its co-opted religious overtones, begs the question: What are we revering? Is it science, bringing medication to placate the world? Or is it Damien Hirst? 

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