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Childbirth gives new definition to art

Photo by Jim Hendricks

Photo by Jim Hendricks

It’s not so much that an artist would think that giving birth was a form of art as it is that people would show up to watch it.

But that’s what happened Tuesday at a New York City art gallery during a performance of “The Birth of Baby X” by Mami Kotak, 36, who set up a home-birth center in the gallery, along with a birthing pool.

The Microscope Gallery in Brooklyn said that 19 or 20 showed up for the culmination of the “exhibit,” which resulted in a baby boy named Ajax and greatly expanded the generally accepted definition of exhibitionist.

From what I can gather two critical questions were unanswered by the news release. No. 1, was the attendance figure increased to account for baby Ajax’s arrival on the scene? And, No. 2, why would you go and name a child after a household cleaning product?

Of course, if your mother invited complete strangers to drop by the art gallery and watch you get born in a birthing pool, you’re probably just lucky you didn’t get named 20 Mule Team Borax.

I’ve never witnessed a child being born, but I certainly didn’t have an urge to trot up to New York City and catch an artsy showing of one. I did, however, watch a film about it once in a health class in college, which, unfortunately, was scheduled right before lunch, which I skipped that day. Along with supper.

I don’t know whether this movie, which was filmed on actual film that ran through a projector and shone on a screen, ever made the conversion to digital media, but on the off chance it did, my advice to college students is to consider scheduling this type of class sometime in mid-afternoon if possible, or during a semester when you’re looking for inspiration to diet.

That’s because that while the plot was interesting and I had to give the cinematographer high marks for interesting angles and effective use of close-ups, I personally would have preferred, say, an over-the-mother’s-shoulder shot at the point of The Actual Event, so as to give the mother’s true perspective. I fault the director for this flaw because he — or she — clearly overlooked the artistic value of the subtle nuance of allowing the viewer’s imagination to fill in certain details.

I don’t recall who the director was because I didn’t see the ending credits. I sort of blanked out for a bit sometime during the episiotomy.

And I can’t help thinking that my insightful remark to our instructor — who was, I learned later, a mother — as I left the classroom that day may have had some adverse impact on my final grade for that course, which was disappointing since I could easily name all the body parts I was even remotely interested in.

“You know,” I mentioned to her on the way out, “it looks like after all these years you women would have found an easier way to do that.”

It’s amazing how motivating a dedicated instructor, even one restricted to a classroom setting, can be when it comes to encouraging the preservation of your good health through intense exercise. Her bone-chilling glare in response to that innocent yet profound observation left me with an overwhelming urge — at just that exact moment — to break out suddenly into a full sprint or, more accurately, to run out of there like a scalded dog.

Fortunately, I did find a way to recover from my cinema-induced trauma through the good work of the Etruscans, generally described as a fun-loving, eclectic bunch who in their heyday from 900 B.C. ’til 400 or 300 B.C. or so, taught, among other things, the French how to make wine.

They did other important instructional work as well, according to Discovery.com, including teaching Europeans in general how to write and Romans how to build roads. But laying the groundwork for a good Bordeaux was genius in my opinion.

The Etruscans also, according to Discovery, created the first known work of art depicting a woman giving birth to a baby, which a graduate student from the University of Texas recently discovered while working an archaeological excavation at Mugello Valley in Italy. There were two images, in fact, on a small ceramic vessel that was created around 600 B.C. Experts say these are the earliest artworks showing childbirth that have been found.

There was no indication as to whether this was a performance-art childbirth per se, but it’s clear that at least one person had access to (1) a mother giving childbirth and (2) art tools and materials he or she wasn’t afraid to use.

I’m not sure whether the Etruscan artwork inspired the filmmaker of my college days or the exhibitionist up in Brooklyn last week, but the skills they taught the French, Romans and Europeans all figured in nicely to my post-health class recovery those long years ago — I walked across the road to a nearby deli/bar, ordered enough Etruscan-inspired adult beverages to dull the childbirth witnessing trauma, and paid for it by writing out a check.

But if you want to decide for yourself whether giving birth in public truly is a form of art, the gallery reportedly videoed the event last week and will add it to an upcoming exhibit. Just don’t expect an opportunity to attend an encore live performance for at least nine months.

Email Jim Hendricks at jim.hendricks@albanyherald.com.