I was invited to do a performance at Grace Exhibition Space for BOS ’11, and decided to continue working with the Baby shower theme, as I was holding one at MyHouse over the weekend as my participation in the festival. For this performance, I invited audience members to participate with me in a popular baby shower game where they are asked to give their best counsel for the mom-to-be on how to be a good mother on small advice cards. While reading the audience’s suggestions aloud, a sound piece played of myself in my mother’s voice offering her opinions. Throughout the performance, I went through a series of emotions from fear and anxiety, to acceptance, and ultimately genuine happiness, about the challenges facing me in my upcoming role as a mother.
"The Wedding" is a new collaborative art-making performance by Marni Kotak and Jason Robert Bell that presents the ceremonial life event of the wedding as a work of art, and generates an accompany performance document called The Wedding Contract, which is a series of tableaux style photographs documenting the event.
In the light of The Wedding everyday life itself is recognized as the most profound work of art, and all of the participants in the deeply significant social ritual of the wedding become collaborators in the creation of photographs that thereby solidify the couples’ matrimonial vows.
In order to help myself face the idea of being pregnant and becoming a mom, I decided to hold a baby shower at MyHouse for the 2011 Bushwick Open Studios festival as a way for me to announce to friends that I was expecting. For this event, I did not send out any email, Facebook, nor press announcements, and invited people solely via invitations sent by the old fashioned US mail system. This ultimately affected the performance a lot, as I decided that I wanted to wait until I got all of my screening tests back from the doctor to make sure that the baby was healthy before sending it the invitations. The mailing ended up being a bit delayed, and adding this in with unforeseen mail service issues, several of the invites arrived quite late and a couple were even lost in the mail or returned to me. The small group of friends who received the invitation in time and were able to attend, were welcomed by festive balloons and flower arrangements at the entrance to MyHouse, and brightly colored gourmet desserts prepared by myself and my fabulous sister, Chef Wendi, such as cheese boobs, stork cupcakes, and dead baby punch. Participants were also invited to play a fun game of “Pin the Sperm on the Egg.”
My mother, sister and aunt organized a beautiful baby shower for me at my childhood home in North Attleboro, MA. About 50 family members and friends attended and as it poured that day, we held the event in the garage which worked out quite nicely. I brought a couple of games that I put together for the guests to play with including “Guess What The Baby Will Look Like”, which involved collaging together fragments of Jason and I’s baby photos, and “Guess Mom’s Tummy Size” where guests competed to guess the circumference of my belly by cutting a pieces of ribbon.
As part of my summer residency at the Contemporary Artists Center in Troy, NY, I held another iteration of my Baby Shower performance at a pop-up space in downtown Troy for Troy Night Out. Audience members were invited to participate in the various games I had assembled for previous performances, including “Pin the Sperm on the Egg,” “Guess What the Baby Will Look Like,” “Who Sucks The Best,” and “Guess Mom’s Tummy Size.” Also on exhibit in this show was a diaper cake I made and some of the collages created by the children from the Baby Shower in North Attleboro.
My dear cousin Sophie sent me a Flat Stanley for her kindergarten class, and I kept forgetting to do it. My submission was so late, that I decided I had to do an extra special job of taking Flat Stanley to NYC’s hotspots. The more I trekked around the city with Sophie’s crayon colored, laminated Flat Stanley, the more I realized that I was doing one of my everyday life performances. I took Flat Stanley from MyHouse in Bushwick to Union Square, Herald Square, the Empire State Building, City Hall, the Brooklyn Bridge, Ground Zero, Lincoln Center, and more, photographing his adventures to send to Sophie and document as yet another of my Found Performances.
In this Found Performance I was ‘performing’ a pregnant woman tourist, adopting cheesecake poses in front of key sites in Chicago. I am just starting to see and feel the changes in my body, like a young girl going through puberty. Standing with other American tourists in front of the Congress Hotel and Buckingham Fountain, I am enjoying how being pregnant creates a kind of down-home innocence in me, like American pie or the girl-next-door.
I have been working on designing these recreations and spin-offs of my first costume that I wore in a kindergarten production of Annie, where I was a flower in “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow.” The flower costume was very simple: just a large brown paper bag (the kind the used to give you at grocery stores before the 90’s), with a colored construction paper flower glued to the front of it. There is a picture of me wearing it here as I anxiously prepare for my first show, one of my Found Performances from 1980.
Marina Abramovic’s “The Artist Is Present” was going on at the MoMA, and I wanted to wear something special, so I decided to create a new paper dress just for the event. I have also been doing this ongoing project involving corporate logos, and thought it would be interesting to incorporate the logos of the sponsor for Marina’s shows, the high fashion/lifestyle conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. I designed my very own super fancy Louis Vuitton paper dress, with a layered top, wrap around skirt, and the construction paper flower. Ironically, when I arrived early at the MoMA, the line was already impossibly long and there was no way I was going to be able to sit with Marina, so I decided then to spend a day out at the MoMA in my dress and document this as my everyday life performance.
In this Found Performance, I dressed in army gear, both military issue and my pink camouflage from the Pleasure War! performances, and underwent a public ritual in which I relived aspects of my first marriage and ultimately forgave my ex-husband for the pain and trauma I went through over that relationship. I kneeled in front of an altar facing an American flag and photographs of myself from our 2002 wedding, and read aloud letters that the two of us wrote to each other during our engagement. At the end of the performance, audience members were invited to come up to the altar and write notes of forgiveness to their exes as well.
In this live action at Alice Chilton Gallery, I underwent a public rebirthing ritual on my recently deceased grandmother's bed that Jason and I broke during sex. Typical of contemporary rebirthing practices, I employed cyclic breathing techniques in order to tap into and release traumatic memories stored in the deep reaches of my body consciousness. Starting from the recent past and moving deeper into my memory towards my birth, I re-experienced traumas in front of the audience, while simultaneously shedding layers of clothing, symbolic objects, documents and other memorabilia that related to the distressing events, until I was ultimately bare and re-born. Jason led me through this action as a doctor/shaman/spiritual guide.
In this solo exhibition at Alice Chilton Gallery, I presented the major events in my life from birth to present as an on-going series of performances set within the context of a bedroom in a working class, New England town. The exhibit was installed in the style of my parents’ New England beach house utilizing household items that were altered or imprinted with family photos. In a timeline along the walls hung photo plaques commemorating the ‘major performances’ conducted for each year of my life from 1974-2010. Also in the show was a 9ft. trophy dedicated to audience members for living their everyday lives, a memorial flag bestowed upon me by the US military for my service to my ex-husband, and a memorial black wreath for my grandmother that had just died the Saturday before the opening.
Questioning the line between art and everyday life, I fused family photos with pillows, tables, playing cards, jewelry, a potty training seat and other memorabilia to create a multigenerational space, in which I, my mother and my grandmother all occupied in various ways at different times throughout our lives. At the center of the room was the broken bed (that Jason and I broke during sex) given to me by my mother and originally belonging to my grandmother.
Sunny Blue Plymouth, performed at Fountain Art Fair Miami (2010) was a re-enactment of having sex with my first boyfriend (and guy I lost my virginity to) in the back seat of my parents’ sky blue Plymouth at Diamond Hill State Park in Cumberland, RI when I was in high school. Diamond Hill was a popular site for my teen peers to hang out and hook up. It was amazingly quiet, and I remember that, aside from the music in your car (Jane’s Addiction was my favorite), and the sounds of couples in nearby cars, the only sound that you could hear was the intense pulsating pitch of the crickets.
For this performance, I purchased an actual Plymouth Acclaim in Miami, the same make and model of the car my parents had when I was in high school. As I wasn’t able to find one in sky blue, we painted the car in handicap blue and covered it in blue glitter. Jason, with the help of others, drove/pushed the car into the outdoor performance area at the Fountain Miami site, where played a video projection of the woods at Diamond Hill State Park and an immersive sound piece of crickets. Then, dressed in our 90’s Goth gear, Jason and I made silly teenage love in the backseat of the car to the sounds of Jane’s Addiction, The Cure, and Joy Division, while the audience peered in through the windows.
Later in the evening, I returned to the scene of the Sunny Blue Plymouth, with Caveman Robot and several members of the international performance art group Non Grata. Non Grata told a story about a 16-year old girl losing her virginity in the car that unleashed a cathartic whirlwind of teenage angst. Using lead pipes, tire changers and Caveman Robot’s club, we began smashing the car to bits, taking out windows headlights and warping doors. Eventually the audience joined in, and the next day the remains of the car were taken away by a wrecking crew.
In order to push the idea that my entire life is performance art further, for the 2010 annual Beta Spaces arts festival in Bushwick, I launched a new project by which I transform my entire living space into MyHouse art space. The project is an ongoing experiment in the use of personal living space as the site for the on-going creation and exhibition of art.
Artists of various media participated in the inaugural show, called Welcome To MyHouse, by creating new site-specific works designed especially for the space (as temporary or permanent installations), or through contributing other previously created relevant works. Participants included: Rob Andrews, Leah Aron & Tymon Mattoszko, Jason Robert Bell, Rodney Dickson, Peter Dobill, David Dostilio, Carl James Ferrero, Jessica Grable, Erik Hokanson, Iwalani Kaluhiokalani, Luisa Kazanas, Marni Kotak, Jill McDermid, Michelle Morby, Joe Nanashe, Sarah Paulson, Melissa Skluzacek, Tescia Seufferlein, Kathleen Vance.
In MyHouse, the dry food products which have been drawn upon by my fiancé are art, as is the rickety antique bed that used to belong to my grandmother and now keeps breaking during sex, the cracks in the linoleum floor that my ex-husband installed with naïve ambitions, the original pine floor boards of my circa 1900 home, and any living being whether myself or my pet rat, Daisy. Everything from the most mundane to the most sublime of experiences – the nostalgic memorabilia clung to, bold chances ventured, enduring habits broken or unbroken, dilemmas confronted with and surmounted (or still trying or not), personal epiphanies enjoyed, mistakes seen in 20/20 hindsight, and all of the idiosyncratic imperfections of everyday life – are all viewed as the most beautiful, valuable and collectable works of art.
Jason and I came up with our own way of saying ‘true love.’ We call it True Lug, which we feel is an ultimately cuter and more accurate description of what happens when you really love another person. This is one of our greatest ongoing performances. Loving is a performance too, and so is being truly in love.
Hot Water Bags was performed at Plato’s Cave on April 9, 2010 as part of an exhibition and edition series organized by Eidia House. In this piece, I re-enact a scene from childhood where I would hide out in my closet playroom and masturbate with plastic baggies full of hot water. For this piece, I created a site-specific installation of my closet in the unique Plato’s Cave underground art space, incorporating children’s clothing, board games, Barbie dolls, stuffed animals and books. During the performance, I read from a book called Men In Love which I found in my parents’ bookshelf when I was about 10 years old, played with Barbies and other toys, while intermittently getting up and walking to the nearby water faucet to fill plastic baggies with warm water and use them to masturbate. While placing the warm baggies between my spread legs, I went through a series of emotions from pleasure to shame to horror and ultimately happiness, reflecting the contentious feelings a child has about their own sexual proclivities.
Catholic School was performed at English Kills Gallery on December 12, 2009 as part of the Maximum Perception Performance Festival. It is a re-enactment of one of my family members’ experience in Catholic school. In this piece, I play the bad Catholic school girl and Maggie LeVine plays the mean nun in a space installed to look like a typical Catholic school classroom with projections of images of people burning in hell. I arrive late to class with a skirt that is too short, and, as was my relative’s experience, the nun pins newspaper around my skirt to cover my legs. The nun gives a lecture and quiz on Hell and the Devil and I goof off and try to cheat and while the nun disciplines me by slapping my wrist with a wooden yardstick, and making me write out a hundred times on the board “I shall not act out in class.” At one point, I try to steal a friends’ collection of saints prayer cards and the nun yells at me: “I’m going to take you out back and put your hands on the wood burning stove so you can feel what it’s like to burn in hell. She then makes me kneel in the corner on rice with my nose pressed against a small circle on the blackboard while a sound piece plays of quotes from the bible on hell and damnation.
S'mores was performed on September 5, 2009 as part of the 10th Annual Open Art Performance Festival, curated by Jill McDermid and Chen Jin, in Beijing, China. In this performance, I re-enacted a familiar American family ritual of making s’mores around a campfire with the audience of about 100. In a site near a coal transfer station outside the gallery of the Open Art Realization Center, I set up a giant bonfire, and got it burning with the help of the audience who added kindling and fanned the flames. I and my family members, played by Matt White (Dad) and Jill McDermid (Mom), passed out skewers, marshmallows and chocolate to all of the attendees, while my family’s classic rock favorites played in the background. The fire was so hot that people had to lunge in quickly to roast their marshmallows. The performance lasted for about 45 minutes until the Chinese police came by and asked us to put out the fire for fear that it would catch the nearby coal repository on fire.
My Grandfather’s Funeral was performed at English Kills Gallery on August 29th and 30th, 2009 with a cast of clergy, soldiers and family members. In this piece, I created a re-enactment of my grandfather, Chickie Kotak’s 2005 funeral in Norwood, MA. The piece involved three acts – The Wake, The Funeral and Burial Rites – and approximately 20 performers.
In the Wake, an installation was set up in the front room of the gallery to mimick the Kraw Kornack funeral home where my grandfather’s funeral was originally held. Upon entering the space, visitors would see a guest book, photo collage of my Grandfather’s life, projections of the interior of the funeral home, large arrangements of flowers, a replica of my grandfather’s coffin and wax sculpture of my grandfather’s corpse. Audience members became attendees of the wake and were invited to sign the guest book, kneel by the coffin to pay their respects to my grandfather’s remains and offer their condolences to myself and other grieving family members played by Philipp Gutbrod (my father), Peter Dobill (my cousin Jonathan), Elizabeth Vega, Justine Pagan, Dayan Salamanca, Xavier Hernandez, Joshua Holtsford and Alice Cox.
For the Funeral, the front of the gallery was installed to appear like the inside of St. Catherine’s cathedral in Norwood, MA where my grandfather’s original funeral took place, with images of the interior of the church projected onto the walls and altar. During the service, I and my performers re-enacted the actual funeral service where the priest(Jeff Horn) delivered the sermon, the Cantor (Andrew Hurst) lead the congregation in singing “Amazing Grace”, I shared a bereavement poem, and my father (Philipp Gutbrod) read the original eulogy. As my grandfather was a veteran of WW II, at the end of the service, soldiers (Michael Martarano and Barry Halpert) came in to perform the military rites, saluting the coffin and covering it with the American flag. The soldiers then carried the coffin out of the gallery and lead a funeral procession along the neighboring streets. The clergy, family members, and audience members followed in sync while a soldier trumpeter (Christopher Flannery-McCoy) played military bugle calls.
For the Burial Rites, the soldiers carried the coffin into the back room of the gallery where the space was installed to appear like the Highland Cemetery in Norwood, MA in which my grandfather was buried. In the center of the space was an exact replica of my grandfather’s tombstone, surrounded by re-creations of other gravestones. Projected onto the walls of the space were surround images of gravestones stretching off into the distance, taken around my grandfather’s tombstone at Highland Cemetery. The soldiers placed the coffin in front of my grandfather’s tombstone, and the clergy and family members gathered about. The soldier trumpeter played taps, and then the other two soldiers performed the rites of folding the flag and presenting it to my cousin (Peter Dobill). I handed out red carnations to all of the family and audience members to place on the coffin, and the priest delivered the final prayers.
Behind the Shed with Shad was performed at Jajo Gallery on July 18, 2009 in a benefit show to raise money for the travel expenses of a group of artists, including myself, who will be performing in Beijing, China, in September 2009 for the 10th Annual Open Art Performance Art Festival. The piece is a re-enactment of an experience I had in 4th grade where an older high school boy read my diary out loud to other neighborhood boys then felt me up behind a shed against my wishes. Once he got his hand in my bra, I was able to break away from his grasp and ran home.
How To French Kiss (2008-2009)
How To French Kiss IV was held at Grace Exhibition Space on June 19, 2009, and curated by Jill McDermid as part of the Bushwick Biennial organized by NURTUREart Non-Profit, Inc. This performance was a re-enactment of practicing how to make out with my best friend in the 5th grade, where we covered our mouths with plastic baggies in order to not be “really making out.” Performing in this event with me were Juri Onuki and Nadine Sobel.
How To French Kiss III was held at the Pool Art Fair, NYC on March 7, 2009, and curated by David Gibson as part of the Article Projects exhibit. Performing in this event with me were Juri Onuki and Nadine Sobel.
How To French Kiss II was held at NY Studio Gallery on December 13, 2009, and curated by Zeina Assaf as part of the MISC Video & Performance 2008 Festival. Performing in this event with me were Lydia Bell and Natalya Krimgold.
How To French Kiss was held at English Kills Gallery on August 17, 2008, and curated by Peter Dobill and Chris Harding as part of Maximum Perception: Contemporary Brooklyn Performance. Performing in this event with me were Juri Onuki and Robin Lehto.
Dinners for You (2008-2009)
Dinners for You 2009 was conducted on June 7, 2009 during the 2009 Bushwick Open Studios festival and based on my original performance of this piece for the 2008 Bushwick Open Studios. In this performance, I prepared lobster tail, stuffed chicken breast, salmon cucumber appetizers, deviled eggs, mint chicken wings, flourless chocolate cake and more, and served them to my guests -- small groups comprised of friends and strangers – wearing nothing but an apron.
Dinners for You 2008 was performed on June 6, 2008 during the 2008 Bushwick Open Studios. Individuals or small groups were invited into an unorthodox and highly personal performance venue - my kitchen in my Bushwick home - where I prepared a special meal for each. Audience members were invited to make a reservation and specify the meal that they would like me to prepare for them -- gazpacho, tacos, strawberry shortcake and more.
Slumber Party involved a large-scale installation of four oversized, interlocking bunkbeds was utilized to re-enact the familiar childhood experience of a girls slumber party. Audience members could peer and sneak through a window into the installation space to join the fun. This piece was performed at English Kills Gallery on August 16-17, 2008 as part of Maximum Perception: Contemporary Brooklyn Performance, curated by Peter Dobill and Chris Harding. Other performers included Iwalani Kaluhiokalani, Michelle Morby, Natalya Krimgold, Robin Lehto and Juri Onuki.
Nightmare was a re-enactment of a recurring kindergarten nightmare of snakes running up and down my walls. In the piece, a projection of hundreds of snakes covered the walls surrounding a child’s bunk bed where I struggled to fall asleep, haunting by the images in my mind. This piece was performed at English Kills Gallery on August 16, 2008 as part of Maximum Perception: Contemporary Brooklyn Performance, curated by Peter Dobill and Chris Harding.
Life Re-Do’s (2006)
Life Re-Do’s was first held at the Blackbox Theater in December of 2006, through the Performance and Interactive Media Arts (PIMA) Program at Brooklyn College. In this work, I and other students from the PIMA program, elicited written accounts of profound life experiences from other members of the group. We then utilized multimedia and live performance to re-enact these events for the particular individuals who originally experienced them as well as for the audience at large.
Third Grade (2006)
At the Brooklyn War Memorial, I took into consideration the original woodwork, details, and school gym feel of the site. I decided to make use of the natural features of the space by building a site-specific installation of a third grade classroom, and re-enacting an experience I had in third grade when I was made to where a dunce cap. I built a wall, assembled two chalk boards, six or so bulletin boards with titles such as “Third Grade Art Stars” and “School is Cool,” posted original drawings and report cards, installed a teacher’s desk, student chairs, a rat as a class pet, and all of the details of a real third grade classroom, down to hand-scribbled notes, blow pops, and gum stuck to desks. It was a time-intensive project that took months of preparation, and a full week, working around the clock, to install.
At the opening of the show, I conducted three live performances: one, where I played the part of the misbehaving student, another, the reprimanding teacher, and another where a sound piece played of children making fun of me while I sat in the corner of the classroom wearing a dunce cap. Throughout the event, audience members were welcome to come up, take a seat at a student desk, and participate as active members of the classroom. Unfortunately, all of my video documentation of the installation and live performances is missing. I have only a handful of photos (including these here) that I pulled together from people who were there at the opening.
As the original Third Grade installation and performance series was created in relation to the Brooklyn War Memorial space, it was impossible to recreate the work in precisely the same way at the DUMBO site. Therefore, I pulled together all of the elements of my work that I could find (--luckily most of my original drawings, as well as bulletin board materials, posters and other classroom paraphernalia were later located in trash bags--) and re-assembled them in a way that would take into consideration the environmental aspects of the new space, as well as comment on it as a site for the ‘restaging’ of the original censored show.
Instead of the three-walled open classroom space that was set up at the War Memorial, I opted to have an enclosed space construed of four walls, with a padlocked door. The interior of the space was laid out similarly to the original piece, however with slight changes, such as caution tape strewn around the classroom (referring to how our artwork was stored behind caution tape at Brooklyn College), and the addition of an ‘R’ in the bulletin board title “School is C(R)ool” to headline photos of our artworks damaged and stored in trash bags.
Posted on guard outside of my classroom was a CUNY Security Officer, dressed in an authentic uniform, checking visitor’s ID’s, having them sign in and out, and only allowing one audience member at a time. This referenced the manner in which Brooklyn College restricted access to our artworks. The pieces from the original Plan B show were kept in locked rooms at Brooklyn College, and when were finally allowed to see our works, about a week and a half after their unauthorized removal from the Brooklyn War Memorial, we had to present ID, sign in and out, and enter only one at a time escorted by a CUNY security officer. The added layer of the security guard, restricting free participation in the work, completely changed the viewing experience.
Doll House makes use of the original Barbie doll house which my father built for me when I was a child. A friend and I are playing with Barbies and acting out a rape scene, while sounds of a family argument can be heard from another room.
I am a practitioner of Nicherin Daishonin Buddhism. An integral part of this practice is Gongyo, or morning and evening recitation of sections from the Lotus Sutra. In Chanting, I go about my daily routine of evening Gongyo for the audience.
When I was about 5 years old, and living in a small red house in East Walpole, my father built an amazing outside play area for my sister and I. The fenced in space was about 20’ X 30’ and contained a wonderful wooden sandbox, of which the one in this show is a replica. In Sandbox, I play in my sandbox, building a heart-shaped sandcastle around myself, while the sounds of me singing “You are my sunshine…” and chanting “Miss Marni. Miss Marni. Miss Marni…” increase in intensity in the background.
In the late 70’s, Polaroid launched their instant film camera called “Polarvision.” My aunt worked for Polariod at the time, so our family was able to acquire one of these cameras. At family gatherings at my grandfather’s house in Norwood, MA, we would set up the device, which we all called ‘Polackvision’ in reference to our Polish heritage, and film family members and friends acting foolishly. Common activities recorded by ‘Polackvision’ included mooning a Miss Piggy doll, zooming in for cleavage shots, gesturing with phallic shaped objects, using limes to signify nipples, and making lots of silly faces. In Polackvision, I utilize various props to act out scenes from ‘Polackvision’ footage, while the original film plays in the background.
I am a child of the 80’s. I was in 8th grade in 1988, and was obsessed with Def Leopard, Madonna, Poison, and all of the other greats. My hair was very big, and, as it took perms well, was envied by my peers. In Big Hair, I go through the junior high school ritual of dressing myself in a mini-skirt with leg warmers, and then moussing, curling, teasing, and spraying my hair. During the piece, I have 4 cans of Aqua Net Superhold -- the brand preferred by all serious 80’s ladies -- ready to unload on my skillfully sculpted locks.