* * * * *
In 2016, ASU was rated the most innovative institution of higher education in the nation; just this week a professor made news for his ability to control unmanned drones with his brain. Innovation at ASU has been strongly applied in real-world application. Happily, the art being acquired by the university is a reflection of this innovation.
Another area where the university has set the pace is in its unique blending of varied academic approaches to social issues. ASU’s School of Transborder Studies is one of a handful of programs dedicated to a new way of looking at the significance of borders. The school examines how borders are both physical and psychic and inform issues of culture, gender, commerce, politics, and race.
Birk’s painting style is informed by the Mexican Colonial era. The perspective is reminiscent of paintings of the New Spanish colony, depicting an elevated view of the Valley of Mexico, lined and ordered in avenues created by Spanish authorities after the Conquest. Birk’s panting depicts a landscape divided by a wall, hulking and twisted across the canvas.
The bottom of the painting has two portraits of Colonial Spanish authorities that explored and “settled” the southern California coast. Birk’s play with colonial painting can be seen in the choice to depict these monastic leaders in traditional robes, but one adorned with a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball hat and the other with a San Diego Padres cap. The image is humorously awkward; these historical figures are depicted in a genre of painting created to celebrate their work in expanding the reach of colonial Spanish power, all whist donning the emblems of contemporary American sport.
ASU’s New Acquisitions are new conversations. Birk’s work reframes and repurposes a historical genre and a traditional art form with exacting skill. Snibbe uses a team of artists, programmers and engineers to bring a machine to life with human breath. Both are examples of innovative approaches that mirror to the complexity of ever-evolving human culture.