Marni Kotak & Ajax Kotak Bell “Seriously Kidding Around”

Microscope Gallery

poster for Marni Kotak & Ajax Kotak Bell “Seriously Kidding Around”
[Image: Marni Kotak & Ajak Kotak Bell “Seriously Kidding Around: 10 Years Have Passed” (2022) archival pigment print, 30 x 30 in. Courtesy of the artists and Microscope]

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Microscope Gallery presents Seriously Kidding Around, a performance / installation and exhibition of individual and collaborative works in video, painting, photography, and mixed-media by artist Marni Kotak and her 10-year-old son Ajax Kotak Bell.

Seriously Kidding Around — the 6th exhibition at the gallery by Kotak — recognizes 10 years of “Raising Baby X” (RBX), a project launched at 10:17AM on October 25, 2011 when the artist gave birth to her son Ajax as a live performance as part of her exhibition “The Birth of Baby X” at the gallery’s original space in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Since its inception, the collaborative project has positioned the raising of a child as a work of art and aimed to make visible both the unseen and uncelebrated daily labor of mothering or nurturing a child to adulthood. RBX also acknowledges the overlooked everyday experiences and challenges a child faces at home and within the wider society during the process of growing up and into an independent person.

Themes of birthing and raising a child have been discussed, at least peripherally, in each of Kotak’s more recent exhibitions such as in “Mad Meds” (2014), in which the artist attempted to withdraw from a cocktail of psychiatric medicines that doctors had prescribed her, without an exit plan, for post-partum depression. However, the performance/ installation and other works in Seriously Kidding Around – many of which incorporate recordings, documents and other materials accumulated over the course of the child’s life – offer the most encompassing manifestation of the RBX project to date, addressing both real-time and historical concerns of raising a child, including the right to decide whether to give birth at all.

Seriously Kidding Around also finds Ajax Kotak Bell in his most active role, both in terms of his physical presence in the performance as well as in his artistic contributions. Additionally, the exhibit allows us to observe the behind-the-scenes processes of art making, while tackling issues of collaboration and authorship.

In the title-piece performance/installation, “Seriously Kidding Around,” Kotak and Kotak Bell will live their day-to-day lives as mother and child within a large-scale installation loosely recreating the boy’s current bedroom and Kotak’s Brooklyn art studio, and extending throughout the entire gallery space including its kitchen, roof deck, and restroom areas. The installation incorporates the artists’ actual home furniture that has been memorialized in gold-leaf, as well as other personal elements including a computer station equipped with Kotak Bell’s favorite games Minecraft and Roblox; a collection of Jurassic Park figures, a fish tank, the child’s Fujifilm instant camera, as well as artworks that both will be making over the course of the show.

The performance/installation draws inspiration from the history of Fluxus and Dada: living art and anti-art as rebellion against a capitalist society that wants us on the clock at all times for money-making activities that fill the pockets of big business and that don’t usually place a high value on human life. … The piece also nods to the pioneering work of Mary Kelly and Mierle Laderman Ukeles, among others, who showed us that childrearing in itself is art. — MK

During the exhibition, Kotak and Kotak Bell will conduct their usual activities as they otherwise would between the hours of noon and 6pm at their home and studio such as preparing lunch, doing homework, paying bills, finger-knitting, playing games, making slime, etc. Special occasions and milestones that will be take place as part of the performance include their cat Pokey’s birthday celebration, Ajax getting his hair dyed for the first time, and an award ceremony during the show’s opening where they both will receive 10-foot-tall custom trophies recognizing 10 years of parenting (Kotak) and 10 years of growth and development (Kotak Bell).

Off-site activities, such as attending classes, grocery shopping, and other excursions to parks and museums will also continue to be part of their lives. As is customary with Kotak’s performance works, the public is encouraged to engage in discussions with the artists and partake in activities. A detailed schedule will be available on the gallery’s website.

Two new single-channel video works will also make their debut. “Raising Baby X: Years 6-10” (2022) is a nearly 9-hour single channel HD video complied from hundreds of hours of footage shot between 2016 and 2021 as part of the “Raising Baby X: Little Brother” project in which it is the child, rather than the adults behind, or in this case wearing, the GoPro cameras used to record his life. In the video, which follows “Years 1-5” (2016), we see Ajax move from early childhood to his pre-teen years. His increasing sense of autonomy is reflected in his deeper participation in the shooting process where he becomes more and more active in decisions like when to wear the camera and what and how long to record.

“Gesturing My Maternal” (2022) is a 10-minute, silent, single-channel video by Kotak in which she proposes a vocabulary of maternal gestures. A life-size projection shows the artist enacting one of 10 gestures, which she holds for a minute, from each of the first 10 years of Ajax’s life. The skin on her unclothed body is filled with footage from the corresponding year, shot as part of the “Raising Baby X: Little Brother Project.”

A smaller installation, “The Eternal Shrine to Mother and Child” (2011-2015, 2022), is a recreation of Kotak Bell’s baby room with gold-leafed replicas of his original crib, diaper changing table, diaper genie, and the rocking chair used to put him to sleep as a baby. Custom upholstery designed by Kotak feature Ajax’s baby photos. A video “Nursing Ajax, Lovely” (2012) of Kotak breastfeeding the child at the age of 5 months appears above the crib.

Among other works that will be on view are yet-to-be-completed ones that the artists will be working on during the exhibition such as a series of instant photos by Kotak Bell and a video by Kotak, begun in 2019, in which she assumes the character of an FBI agent sent out to arrest the then-President Trump.

Marni Kotak and Ajax Kotak Bell: “Seriously Kidding Around” opens on September 8th and runs through October 15th, 2022, with an opening reception on Thursday September 8th, 6-8pm.

Marni Kotak is a multimedia and performance artist presenting everyday life being lived. She has received international attention for her durational performances and exhibitions, most notably “The Birth of Baby X” (2011) in which she gave birth to her son as a live performance and “Mad Meds” (2014) during which the artist slowly withdrew from psychiatric medications prescribed for postpartum depression. In “Treehouse” (2017), Kotak — who had just experienced a devastating fire in her home — created a refuge for herself and others to pause from the overwhelming aspects of life and in “Dancing in the Oval Office” (2019) she danced each day within a recreation of the White House Oval Office. Kotak’s works have also appeared at the Santiago Museum of Contemporary Art, Santiago, Chile; Artists Space, New York, NY; Exit Art, New York, NY; White Box, New York, NY Momenta Art, Brooklyn, NY; English Kills Gallery, Brooklyn, NY; Grace Exhibition Space, Brooklyn, NY; among others. She has performed extensively in the US and abroad.

Her exhibitions have been featured in Artforum, Blouin Artinfo, Art Pulse, The Huffington Post, Hyperallergic, Los Angeles Times, Studio International, The Brooklyn Rail, The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Village Voice, Time Magazine, Washington Post, among many others. Kotak’s work also appear in books and publications including “The Maternal, Digital Subjectivity, and the Aesthetics of Interruption,” Bloomsbury (2022); Maternal Performance: Feminist Relations, Palgrave McMillian (2021); The Art of Feminisim: Images that shaped the Fight for Equality, 1957-2017, Chronicle Books (2018); and Blackwells Companions to Contemporary Art: A Companion to Feminist Art, John Wiley & Sons (2019), among others. Kotak has appeared on Good Morning America (ABC), CBC Radio, NPR, ZDFKultur, and other broadcasts as well as in the documentary “The Art of Making it,” (2021) currently streaming on Amazon Prime. Marni Kotak received a BA from Bard College and an MFA from Brooklyn College.



from September 08, 2022 to October 15, 2022

Opening Reception on 2022-09-08 from 18:00 to 20:00

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