I am the body of a human is a self-referential declaration spoken from the voice both of a cyborg and a caveman: the condensed self-awareness of an existentialist being, a self-aware physical device, and a biological entity, all at once.
Andrew Birk presents a series of Life Shrouds, an exercise of dirt-on-denim pieces made with the imprint of his own body. Coming from a trajectory of painting, exploring materials in relation to their common use, Birk turns to the most primordial tool, subject and material - the body and what it is surrounded by, what it is made of. A body that is neither a medium, like a brush operating between the gesture and the image, nor a portrait of a subject. These paintings are multiple indexes of one same reference, a physicality in movement: each the unpredictable product of an alive, perfect machine.
In the age of immateriality being the untraceable source of all images created, distributed, manipulated and consumed; where bodies are self-governed as brands; where truth only exists as an effect and nature as a concept - these imprints appear, much like X-rays do, as a deconstruction of content and form, a rejection of image making and identity masking.
Dirt is pigment and denim is canvas; dirt is body and denim is labour. Stripping down art history’s canons and praising the unrefined, Birk uses wearable, industrial cloth, to cover himself covered in mud. As in a death shroud, body and dirt become one thing in a cycle of both scientific and religious undertones. Beyond the anthropocentric and constructed distinction between artificial and natural, human beings appear as an undivided species within a larger system of entities, living in a world of structures - biological, social, linguistic. Seen as accumulations of materials formed and solidified through time, historical narratives then become geological, and humans, made from synthetic processes and constantly provoking new ones, like rocks and plants and bacteria, become a planetary force.
The organic body is a temporary coagulation in a current - birth captures a certain fraction of the current and death lets it go again when it is disintegrated by microorganisms into a range of new prima materia. Everything from the narratives of mankind formed in clay, to the technological extensions of its reach, is analogous - A.I. development imitates the strategies and patterns of primitive organisms, religious wars dictate migratory flows and with them, genetic mutation of societies and ecosystems.
Andrew Birk’s imprints are made away from both the romanticization of Nature as the Other, and from the dynamics of capitalization of an ecological attitude.
Apantles, Calderones, Tlalpan, Juantepec, Chipicas are the names of biographically relevant places, where the artist finds the dirt that he turns into paint, where he recovers mud from lakes or where he has his weight dragged onto the canvas across grassed fields.
Andrew Birk’s Life Shrouds are one’s own size and one’s own vigour, as the sum of particles that constitute a mass is the potentiality of a Self, as the captured moment in time of an ever mutating anatomy; as the place where the implications of being human start and end.
Text by Sira Pizà Airas.
Andrew Birk - I am the Body of a Human
Malta Contemporary Art - October 21 - November 18