On a cold and rainy evening in January of 2013, a group of artists, collectors and arts advocates raised a glass in celebration of their successful bid to create PA (Pacific Arts) – Seattle’s first international arts biennial. Sure, it wasn’t going live until the summer of 2016, but the formation, and birth of a citywide arts festival was a heroic undertaking and the merriment was well warranted. Matt Dillon stood back in a pinstriped apron, knife in hand, as Greg Bell announced the official venues and dates and Beth Sellars revealed the first year’s guest curator.
There were about 50 of us there that night at the Corson Building, and I hardly knew them all, but I’ve been trying to compose a complete guest list since. Amanda Manitach and Ben Beres were at my table, as well as Scott Lawrimore, Yoko Ott, John and Shari Behnke and Susie Lee. I know that Paul Rucker and Petra Franklin were sitting behind me, and Bill and Ruth True brought an extra case of champagne. Dan Webb and Scott Fife plotted in the corner, and Greg Kucera, Gail Gibson and Vic Haven all wore PA branded jackets that reminded me of 1970s real estate agents, in a good way. Oh, and of course D.K. Pan was there.
The food was spectacular, the drink flowed in tempo with the cold bitter rain outside and it was a party not unlike the victors of a war might have – loud and congratulatory and decadent. People smoked cigars and joints under the eve and the energy in the room was nothing short of electric. There was a lot of talk about birth, about creation, about life and growth and bringing new things into the world. We drank and ate and envisioned our city pulsing with art and invaded by what was called ‘cultural tourism’. Amanda and D.K. don’t recall exactly with whom they spoke with that night, but they undoubtedly had some conversation about birth, about the act of creating, about art not being entirely under their control. It’s really difficult to say where the idea came from, or who the primary author was. There was plenty of booze consumed and the party carried on late into the night.
Two weeks later Amanda Manitach received an email from a prominent Seattle law firm, and on February 12th, she and D.K. Pan were sitting in the lobby high above the city, not sure if they were busted for some unknown crime or about to inherit a secret fortune. They sat there with their minds racing, and taking long shot guesses at this undisclosed meeting. They had both seen their share of trouble, but not together. It made no sense. They were seated at a 20 person conference table overlooking Elliot Bay, two glasses of mineral water before them and five lawyers with note pads across from them. Amanda laughed out loud. D.K. had seen enough law offices in his life and waited for bad news.
Amanda and D.K. are not at liberty to discuss the exact content of that meeting, but a specific conversation that happened at the Corson Building that rainy night in January was not all lost in the haze of indulgence. At least not lost to the undisclosed party that hired the lawyers, drafted the proposal and very seriously offered to make good on the challenge set forth that night. This private and nameless party sought to commission a work of art from Amanda and D.K., a work of art that could only be called, for lack of a better word, a ‘living sculpture’. The two artists sighed a collective relief, relaxed, got excited, and nearly in unison replied, “Wait-what? A living sculpture?” In plain speak, the lead attorney responded somberly, “A baby. Our client wishes you to create a baby. It is our understanding that it was your idea.”
“A baby-baby? Like a baby that comes out of – here?” D.K. leaned forward, took a sip of his sparkling water and asked, “How much are we talking about?” The first meeting lasted three hours. The second meeting lasted six. And by mid-April, a contract was signed, a plan was developed, and the curatorial team at Walden Three was shuffling exhibition dates around to accommodate this new performance installation called BABY, scheduled to happen in the Mercer Gallery.
BABY was programmed in three segments – The Conception, The Delivery and The Exhibition. The Conception was an understated event and barely registered in the media. Maybe people thought it was a hoax, maybe we’ve become so desensitized by sex that a public act of sex, in a gallery, seemed like a bore. Maybe we were all a little uncertain about it and under advertised the event. But on July 14th, Amanda Manitach and D.K. Pan approached a king sized mattress in the center of the gallery, stood on their knees, reached out and made love. For four hours and twenty six minutes. Contractually, if Amanda and D.K. did not conceive in the gallery, more medical approaches would be employed, but they were determined to make a baby and did so in a way that critics called, “a profound act of creation” “utterly beautiful and cerebral” and “totally not pornography”. Not to say it wasn’t hot and messy and loud, but much like drawing a nude model, what Amanda and D.K. were doing was not fucking, it was not for sport or for show, it was… something different. Something intimate and, for lack of a better word – magical. You couldn’t help but view them as animals, you couldn’t help but imagine a billion sperm racing towards the mothership, you couldn’t help but look at is as an entirely different level of performance art. It surprised no one in attendance when, two days later, it was confirmed that Amanda was pregnant.
Seattle photographer Megumi Shauna Arai was brought on to document these next nine months of clean living and collective baby-making. D.K. attempted to shoulder as much of the creative process as possible, cooking healthy meals, reading George Bataille out loud , and exposing the growing sculpture inside Amanda to the sounds of Satie, Riley, Reich (as per the contract) and the Velvet Underground just for good measure. When D.K. wasn’t around, Katy Perry and Lana del Rey were in heavy rotation.
Amanda’s water broke on May 1st and our staff (totally freaked out) braced for her arrival. Dr. Robert Weinsheimer was called in, as was Alex Austin – Amanda’s flask carrying doula. We called the lawyers, our documentarians and sent out a flash press release. Within the hour The Mercer Gallery was filled with over a hundred paper-mask wearing art patrons and friends, all buzzing with the excitement surrounding the Delivery performance.
In anticipation of BABY, we had constructed a glass walled delivery room and nursery on the west side of the gallery, specifically for the Delivery performance, exhibition and feeding. The crowd surged towards the glass with a surprising number of children front row and center for the Delivery.
I’ve never heard a woman swear so much.
I’ve never seen so much blood and bodily fluid.
It was the physical manifestation of an artist tortured by their craft – natural and painful and uncertain. There was this sense that they had gone too far with their ideas but could not turn around, could not back up. PUSH! PUSH! Forward was the only direction. PUSH! PUSH! You signed up for this now finish what you started. It was weird and beautiful and messy, animalistic and awesome. If there was any doubt in the critics mind, witnessing Delivery extinguished it, annihilated it. This was no gimmick or Buzzfeed story. Six hours and fifteen minutes later, the living sculpture came into this world, covered in a slick mess. It was smacked on the rear, it took its first breath and screamed a baby’s scream. The kids had their sweaty little palms flat against the glass, eyes wide and mouths slack. Everyone else was crying. The whole gallery collectively wept tears of joy, uncontrollably, hands to their face, overwhelmed and involuntarily. We sobb-laughed as the emotional wave engulfed us. It was euphoric, profoundly beautiful, human and vulnerable. Sunglasses could not hide the tears of Christopher Knight. Hans Ulrich Obrist (who was there to include Amanda and D.K. in his next volume of the Interview Project) acted like a nervous, expecting father, racing between the gallery and the alley to smoke a pack and a half of cigarettes. But when BABY screamed, like a director shouting “action”, we just wept and wept. And when you thought you had regained your composure, you would look over to a stranger, to a friend, to a child and start sobbing all over again.
Please visit the BABY exhibition throughout the month of May. The living sculpture will be on display from 12:00 to 6:00 pm daily with wet nurses and volunteers caring for and presenting BABY. Per contract, Amanda and D.K. are not allowed on in the third floor gallery during the exhibition period, but will be conducting artist talks on the Denny Stairs (see calendar). Come June 1st, BABY will enter into a private collection, and we don’t believe you will get a chance to witness it again. We have posted the above interview for those unable to attend the Seattle discussions.