Happy 10th Birthday, Peacock Racer! was a live birthday party performance event to celebrate the 10th birthday of my son Ajax Kotak Bell as part of “Raising Baby X”, which has grown into a collaboration between mother and son. The festivities included elaborate tracks for Hot Wheels cars designed by Ajax, a peacock balloon arch installation, vegan lunch, cupcakes, and a Halloween pinata. Ajax was dressed as “The Peacock King,” in a costume that he made for himself from cardboard, paper mache, feathers, and fabric. And I was dressed as a pea-hen with my own hand-made costume. The event was held outdoors in front of our Bushwick, Brooklyn home to make accommodations for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. All guests were encouraged to come in costume.
Streamed live online via Microscope Gallery, Love Masks took place in my home, seated in my kitchen listening to the evening news, and sewing masks for my family and others to wear during the COVID-19 pandemic. My mother is a retired nurse who taught me how to sew, and recommended that I make a mask for the safety of myself and my family and some to donate to community members. I decided to make a personalized mask that I would like to wear and see others wearing, one that would spread a message of love, rather than add to the fear and hopeless many are feeling right now. Each mask, which comes in three variations, features the word “Love” embedded in a lotus flower, a reference to the symbol of the lotus in Buddhism, symbolizing the beauty that emerges from the muck, or deepest challenges in life. Two of the images are prints of pastel drawings by myself and the third is a digital image made by my 8-year-old son, Ajax. Half of all proceeds from the sale of the masks are donated to City Harvest.
Ajax was inspired by my disco lights in my Dancing in the Oval Office exhibition and wanted a disco party theme for his birthday party in his home for Year 8. There were disco lights in every room of the house, music for dancing, and Ajax created his own decorations for the event including life-size tissue paper mummies, a ghoulish graveyard, and his own paper mâché pterodactyl costume.
A solo exhibition at Microscope Gallery, from October 18 – December 1, 2019, Dancing In The Oval Office featured works in performance, installation, video and painting made in response to the 2016 election and Trump presidency. The title piece is a performance and installation that found Kotak dancing continuously each day of the exhibit within a recreation and personal reinterpretation of the White House Oval Office. As is a custom in her family, I used dance in this work as a way to transform my daily anxieties into a cathartic and liberating act, seeking to reclaim my right to joy as an individual and an American, standing in opposition to those who abuse power, or use fear and other authoritarian methods. I encouraged as many people as possible to join in and dance with me daily in the gallery and was present in the dancing in the gallery throughout the run of the exhibition, 161 hours in total.
Other works on view on the walls surrounding the installation included three new series of twelve oil pastel on wood panel paintings titled the Raising Baby X - Herstory Paintings. Each featured multi-colored text — often re-written over, overlapped, or erased — extracted from her diary entries from each month of the past three years. Additionally, a series of ink and oil pastel drawings and writings on actual $1 bills, framed in gold memorabilia cases, pushed the political undertones of the exhibition further and reminded us of the values of people’s lives over those of convention and commerce.
As part of the exhibition Scrapbook (or, Why Can’t We Live Together) July 12 – August 19, 2019, the performance featured myself sitting in a rocking chair and hand-sewing elements from my home and personal life — such as the the bra that Ajax was nursed from, the garter belt worn when marrying my husband and child’s father Jason Robert Bell, bedroom sheets and curtains, remnants from costumes from previous birthday party performances, and one of Ajax’s “fancy” shirts — onto the U.S. flag to create a personal Herstory American Dream Flag.
The 7th annual birthday party/performance Ajax's Little Piece of Heaven Goblin Busters 7th Birthday Party was held - at my son’s request - within a recreation of my installation Treehouse. The original work, which appeared in my last solo exhibition at Microscope as a place for contemplating what is meaningful in our lives, was installed to fit in my family’s backyard for the occasion as a gift to Ajax, and decorated for the birthday event.
Ajax’s Spooktacular 6th Birthday Party was held for the first time in the family’s home, per Ajax’s request. Ajax grew increasingly involved in the planning of his birthday parties, and chose for Year 6 to be a Halloween-themed birthday party where the participants were encouraged to wear costumes. The home was decorated as a haunted house with ghoulish surprises throughout. There was also a jack-o-lantern piñata, a fortune teller, and spooky games for kids.
A solo exhibition held the Microscope Gallery, May 12 – June 18, 2017, Treehouse continued my practice of presenting life as art, this time in the context of a recent and major fire in mine and my family’s home and art studios, involving substantial losses of possessions, temporary displacement, and a long restoration, testing my sense of security and familial stability. The show included new photographs, paintings, videos, sculpture and a durational performance installation, made in response to the event or its recovery process, as well as a nearly 6 year edited version of "Raising Baby X - Years 1-5 (2012-2017)".
The durational performance and installation in the show also titled Treehouse was conceived as a gift for my son Ajax and an act of rebellion against a society that tends to undervalue personal time. The large triangular-shaped wood structure – elevated on tree stumps, with chalkboard paint on its interior walls – was proposed as an alternative world for playing games, for making art, and for enjoying each other’s company free from fears and distractions, both immediate and seemingly distant. I was present in the space during the exhibition, at times accompanied by my son and members of the public to set aside time for meaningful endeavors and to contemplate the concepts of love and compassion, beyond their clichés.
Held in Microscope Gallery’s original location, where Ajax was born on October 25, 2011, the birthday party theme My Halloween Birthday Party: Ajax Is 5! was chosen for the first time by the now kindergartener, who also helped out with various elements of the installation within which the party took place: a haunted forest of creepy cardboard trees, light up ghosts, tiny bats, spider webs and pumpkins for decorating.
Held at Grace Exhibition Space on Halloween, October 31, 2015, the space was transformed into Baby X's Silly Spooky House of Mirrors, an elaborate maze-like construction of mylar, cobwebs, ghouls, jack-o-lanterns, and other spooky details, tricked out with haunted sounds, a fog machine and strobe lights. The festivity also featured a magician, a giant piles of fall leaves to play in, and traditional Halloween treats such as cupcakes, candy corns and candied apples. The Halloween costume birthday party provides an experience where reality intersects with the realm of fantasy, and truth and illusion are intertwined. Kotak further blurs the lines between the real and unreal in construing a house of mirrors, where audience members are simultaneously themselves and are seen in a never-ending reflection of themselves, for a moment really living a dream within a dream within a dream.
In Self-Medication, held at the UNTITLED Art Fair Miami Beach, December 3-4, 2014, I invited the public to share in my exploration of good old-fashioned rest and relaxation and friendship as more effective methods of dealing with emotional struggles than pharmaceutical meds. During the performance, wearing a gold bikini, I relaxed on a lounge chair in the sand, snacking on Wellfleet oysters and red wine sangria while a video of myself with family at Lt. Island in Cape Cod projected behind me on a custom-designed windscreen, and classic rock hits play from my portable 80’s vintage ‘ghettoblaster’. Beside me sat an empty lounge chair for anyone in the audience who wanted to take a seat, one at a time. I would reach into my cooler of oysters and sangria, and share them with the public while talking with them about what they are going through in their lives right now, as one would do with close friends.
In this performance, held in front of Microscope Gallery in October 2014, I reconstructed the space as a ceremonial stage drawing from cultural traditions, such as the Upsherin, first haircut, in the Jewish tradition, and Las Presentaciones, presentation of the child to God, in Latin America, recognizing the third birthday as the transition from baby to boyhood before members of the community. During the ceremony, Ajax – seated in a golden, kiddie barber chair in the shape of his current favorite thing: a “coolcar” - received his actual first haircut by his parents. A presentation of special gifts, a sing-a-long led by the Beatles cover band The Nerk Twins and a procession around the block with a convertible, go-karts, a toy racecar track and a gold cake in the shape of a car were part of the festivities.
Mad Meds was a durational performance and installation held at Microscope Gallery July 18 through August, 25, 2014, during which I began slowly withdrawing from Wellbutrin, Abilify and Klonopin, medications I was prescribed to cope with postpartum depression after The Birth of Baby X and during a subsequent stay in the psychiatric ward at Beth Israel Hospital. During the show, visitors were welcomed into a waiting area and offered to visit me as I wrote with my left hand in gold pen on a large drawing pad about my process of weening from the meds, and to converse with me about their own experiences with mental health. The exhibition was installation in gold-painted room and featured gold-leafed furniture and imagery of myself and my family in the Tivoli Bays forest around Bard College. There was also a gold-leafed elliptical machine and photo printed yoga mat that I could use to work out my stress and recuperate during the show.
"Raising Baby X: Little Brother" is an ongoing collaboration between Marni Kotak and her son Ajax (aka Baby X), who she gave birth to in Microscope Gallery on October 25, 2011 as a work of performance art. Ajax is outfitted with a tiny wearable video camera capturing the intricacies of his early infancy and toddlerhood from his own perspective, recording the actions of everyone around him, including how they interact with and treat him. Ajax's camera has captured everything from bedtime stories, to his first time in the ocean, to his first snowstorm, to his first trip to the zoo, all from his own point of view.
Presented by Microscope Gallery in October 2013, two years after the baby's birth, Ajax's Second Birthday Party, like many of the artist’s previous works, positioned an actual real life occasion – in this case the actual 2nd birthday of her son – as a performance in which the public was invited to participate. For “Singin’ Rain…”, Kotak debuted an interactive and immersive video and sound rainstorm installation, including a rain machine and umbrellas for all. The event also featured live music by jazz trio The Brooklyn Players, instruments for others to join in, and a ball pit for toddlers.
Held as part of the Brooklyn International Performance Art Festival, and in conduction with the event “Neo-Domesticities” held at Glasshouse Project Art Life Lab on July 9, 2013, Kotak invited the public to jam along with her, Ajax, and her husband, the baby’s father, Jason Robert Bell, in “Raising Baby X: Family Jam Session.” For the past year and a half, she, Ajax and Bell have had regular family jam sessions, which have been a great source of joy for a toddler who has a great musical sensibility and loves to dance. In “Family Jam Session”, the audience engaging with Kotak's family in this everyday playful ritual that became a work of art.
Held at Grace Exhibition Space in April 2013. Marni Kotak and her son, Ajax, invited the community into their lovely play space in the performance venue, equipped with a ball pool, play tube, children’s books, wooden toys, musical instruments and more! The performance was documented from Ajax’s point of view, and presented via live-feed projection in the space, as part of the mother and son's ongoing collaboration called Raising Baby X: Little Brother.
Held at Cutlog Art Fair in May of 2013, Calorie Countdown was a durational performance dealing with the pressures of weight loss and fitness in current culture, with an emphasis on those placed on women following childbirth. The performance drew directly from the artist’s real life experience as a new mother. Since giving birth to her son Ajax 18 months prior as a live performance at Microscope, Kotak saw her weight loss progress hindered first by a bout with postpartum depression and then by a broken foot which occurred on Thanksgiving Day.
At Cutlog Art Fair, Kotak, dressed in her summer bikini, worked out continuously on an elliptical machine while wearing a BodyMedia FIT armband that tracked her real-time fitness information including calories burned against calories consumed, proper intake of vitamins and minerals, and the artist’s progress towards achieving her weight loss goals. The ongoing analyses tracked by the armband was fed wirelessly into a computer and projected onto the wall so that she and the audience could track her progress as it happened. Hanging on the wall, beside the projected information was a “Before” photograph of Kotak during her pregnancy and an award plaque such as those given to athletic winners that she received upon finishing her performance in which she ultimately took 176,947 steps on the elliptical machine, burned 23,775 calories and lost 11 lbs over 5 days.
Held at Microscope Gallery in October 2012, one year after the baby's birth, Ajax's First Birthday Party, was a live performance and real-time birthday event featuring the Hungry March Band, Audrey Crabtree as Pepper the clown, a champagne toast, a giant cake and more. In First Birthday, Kotak presented the actions, rituals, and pageantry of this traditionally important rite in the context of a performance at the same time the moment was being lived. The public was invited to join in the celebration.
"Raising Baby X: The First Year", a solo exhibition, was held at Microscope Gallery in Brooklyn, NY in October 2012, featuring sculpture, photography, video 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.
Held at Fountain Art Fair NY in March of 2012, Kotak re-enacted her actual real life experience with Postpartum Depression that peaked about 3 months after giving birth to Ajax. During this 6 hour durational performance, Kotak was lying on a bed in a barren space surrounded by medical imagery and other memorabilia from the original episode. Sullen, she pumped breast milk from both breasts from a handsfree bra, while wanting to actually be with Ajax and nurse him, and read and journaled about how she could change her life so that she would feel happier.
Currently in its third year, "Raising Baby X" is an ongoing performance art project in which I present the everyday act of raising my child as a work of art. The long-term project will ultimately encompass the overall span of the child's life from birth through attending college and developing an independent life. 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 a memoir about my experiences with the project of motherhood, containing journal entries, photos and other documentation. For more information or to make a non-profit donation to this project, visit the project page at Fractured Atlas: Raising Baby X: The First Year
"The Birth of Baby X" was a durational performance that Kotak conducted from October 8 through November 7 at Microscope Gallery in Brooklyn New York, culminating in the live birth of her baby boy Ajax, on October 25, 2011. The entire gallery was installed to create her ideal homebirth center, including an inflatable birthing pool, the rocking chair her mother used to rock me to sleep on, her grandmother's bed upon which Baby X was conceived, a shower stall with a curtain covered in photos from my baby showers, an altar to Baby X's ultrasound, a kitchenette, and a video projection, sound piece, and photo wallpaper border of the artist and her husband at Marconi Beach. Also in the exhibition were two ten foot trophies -- one dedicated to Baby X for being born, the other for Kotak for giving birth.