I wanted to have had kids, but I never wanted to have kids - Jennifer Zwick
"I wanted to have had kids, but I never wanted to have kids," says artist Jennifer Zwick, who made this hypnotic pregnant belly for the show. Jennifer Zwick

To have kids or not to have kids? That’s the question more than two dozen artists have been asked to contemplate in advance of Kids/No Kids, a multimedia art exhibition inspired by Sheila Heti’s new book Motherhood opening tonight at The Factory from 6-11.

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“I wanted to have had kids, but I never wanted to have kids,” hedges Jennifer Zwick, who photographed her own 8-months-pregnant abdomen through a hole in a flowered shower curtain and then gave it a motorized rotating belly button. (Scroll down to see it.) Zwick has two kids.

“It sounded terrifying, and final, and way too intense. And boy was I right, but I’m glad I did it anyway. The only downside to having children is that you are no longer ever allowed to use time travel to alter your past.”

Here is what the piece looks like when it's plugged in:

As for other artists in the show?

“No kids,” answers Amanda Manitach, who has an ecstatic, excessive watercolor of a Victorian-era syphilitic vagina in the show.

Here is a detail:

A detail from an Amanda Manitach watercolor of a Victorian-era syphilitic vagina.
A detail from a watercolor of a syphilitic vagina. Amanda Manitach

As art critic Jen Graves once described these pieces of Manitach's:

You can't tell what those whisper-delicate lines and shaded folds are depicting—the ruffles of an exotic cabbage?—until you read the titles, polite and simple things resembling classical music designations, like Four Petite Variations of the Genitalia of a Female Syphilitic. You can imagine this subject being introduced between women of refinement in a parlor, them all nodding until a certain point, when they start screaming their heads off.

As for Manitach not wanting to have kids—why not? “A few reasons," she says. "Overpopulation. I enjoy the freedom it affords. I think I’m more useful to culture than dumping into the gene pool. Also, on my own I’m enough of a handful to take care of. Not mom material.”

Manitach has also made paintings of women in shirts that say "Not mom material." Someone once saw this work and told her they wished they could have that shirt the figure in the painting is wearing, so Manitach decided to make some. A limited batch of the shirts will be on sale at the exhibition.

A detail from the painting on the left, and the artist wearing one of the shirts that will be on sale on the right.
A detail from the painting on the left, and the artist wearing one of the shirts on the right. Amanda Manitach

There are fathers in the show, too.

“I never thought I’d get the chance to have kids because I was queer!” laughs Joey Veltkamp, an artist who often works with textiles, quilts, and blankets.

“And then my best friends"—a lesbian couple—"wanted kids and suddenly it became a possibility! So the kids get amazing moms with some artsy-fartsy dads on the side! And both kids identify as artists!”

In the show, Veltkamp is exhibiting baby dresses that he made for his daughter.

This baby dress by Joey Veltcamp is called Lil Pardner.
This baby dress by Joey Veltcamp is called Lil Pardner. Joey Veltcamp

There is also a performance component to the show, with cross-disciplinary artists like Sarah Rudinoff, Sarah Paul Ocampo, Christi Cruz, Lisa Prank, Rachel Kessler, and others performing five-minute original pieces beginning at 9 pm. A full list of participating artists is here.

The subject of this exhibition piques my own curiosity because it's something I've personally been on the fence about for years.

On the one hand, the reproductive impulse is strong. Think about it: Every single living thing on earth is descended from an unbroken chain of reproduction that extends back to the origin of life itself! On the other hand, there's an island of garbage twice the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean and environmental researchers say that having fewer children is the single most effective action that individuals can take to help stem the tide of climate change.

In an ideal world, I probably would have already reproduced by now. This is not that world, and it's heartbreaking.