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Don’t worry we’re not suggesting anyone tattoo their tots (seriously!) – but this controversial image from artist Marni Kotak’s ongoing show “Raising Baby X”, is media-savvy publicity bound for internet glory.
The “tattoos” are in fact a projected slide montage using photos from some of the artist’s first vacations with her child – Xmas, Easter, first trip to the ocean…
This second image of Kotak with baby Ajax (recalling religious iconic paintings of Madonna & baby Jesus) is a reference to feminist artist Catherine Opie’s “Self Portrait/Nursing”.
To paraphrase from gallery director Elle Burchill’s statement:
“Using the body as a site to examine how memories are embedded in the psyche, the complexity of the mother/child bond is evident, where the mother is imprinted with moments she will never forget, while the child is imprinted with moments he will probably never recall.”
Kotak was propelled to internet fame during her previous show “The Birth of Baby X“, during which she inhabited Microscope gallery for a month & gave birth on site in front of a gallery audience with the help of a doula or midwife! (As if childbirth weren’t already stressful & traumatic enough!)
As in the first event, the gallery has again been transformed to a kitsch fairytale version of a suburban home. But in place of real life activities, there are projections & instead of paintings on the wall, there’s artwork including six 2in. x 3in. canvases painted by Ajax with food dye & ink, titled “The First Masterpieces” (ahem!).
According to Burchill, Kotak makes a “critical nod to the spectacle of online social media & the sensationalism of reality TV, (by incorporating) the actual documentation of the day-to-day activities & the highs & lows of parenting into new artworks to comment on such broader themes as memory; achievement; the birth to death continuum.”
It’s lucky for Kotak that Ajax has lived up to his name & become (prematurely perhaps) a bit of a hero on the art front – two videos were filmed by him including a projection of a 26 minute looping video called “Little Brother 2012”, where he wore a small camera to record the activities of family & friends around him.
According to Burchill, this “flip(s) the traditional power imbalance inherent in childhood documentation” & “it is also the adults seen through the infant’s perspective who appear vulnerable & exposed”.
Many of the underlying concepts may actually be slightly dull news for most parents whose technological skills are constantly being surpassed by that of their beloved tots, & Kotak’s cooing praise of her child’s achievements is only too familiar.
Also to be a bit cynical, taking the first year of your child’s life & turning that into an art event could possibly point to a certain attention-seeking behaviour warranting professional help…
(As some smart-ass commented after one of the online articles on Kotak: “She needs to be reminded that her next project is NOT “Raising Baby X”, but raising baby AJAX. He’s a real person, not a prop, with his own needs, which will not include satisfying his mom’s need for attention.”)
As if to underline that very point, Kotak has a fundraising call for online sponsorship “for the everyday act of raising a child as a work of art” on Fractured Atlas (!). But sure, it can’t be easy being a full-time artist & a mum on top of that. I think I’d fail on both counts myself.
But personally I’m left gobsmacked at the capabilities & sensitivities of a being who’s conventionally seen as a yet-unformed “blank slate”. And is this really a solo show or in fact a duo? – And at what age can one be recognized as an artist in his/her own right?
Secondly, what moral & legal right has a mother to parade a child as a public spectacle when the child is far too young to give any kind of consent to that act?
Whatever it is, Kotak certainly succeeds in continuing to be the provocative, controversial artist she is today.
Raising Baby X: The First Year by Marni Kotak
Till Nov 12 – birthday party for Ajax on Sat Oct 27 at 3pm
Microscope Gallery, 4 Charles Place, Brooklyn NY 11221
All the above images courtesy of Marni Kotak & Microscope Gallery