Imaginary Monuments II
Originally conceived in 2007, the “Imaginary Monuments” series depicts historical texts housed within proposed monuments that honor or enshrine the text’s topic. Most of the monuments incorporate multiple documents, conveying in words and images the complex and sometime conflicting histories and opinions behind subjects such as the judicial system, incarceration, economics, capitalism, trade, immigration, slavery, freedom of speech, treaties, governance, social justice and civil rights. Birk’s most recent drawings and multiples consider how we define our most basic social contracts, while also revealing the ontological disparities that underpin recent attacks on how we define “truth.”
Proposal for a Monument to Logical Fallacies (2018), for example, depicts twin columns to “REASON” and “LOGIC” entangled by branches and spokes inscribed with dozens of types of misbelief (such as “nirvana fallacy” and “existential fallacy”), with a massive “red herring” nearly obscuring a cornice to the “TRUTH.” By comparison, Proposal for a Monument to Capital Punishment (2018), which depicts an ominous watchtower overlooking monuments to instruments of execution such as a gas chamber and an electric chair, next to burning pyres to “revenge” and “systemic racism,” directly address particular and pervasive social and human rights concerns.
Imaginary Monuments II also marks the formal release of Proposal for a Monument to the Declaration of Independence (and a Pavilion to Frederick Douglass) (2018), the latest in a series of direct gravures co-published by Mullowney Printing and Catharine Clark Gallery. The gravure, like the Douglass speech it references, reflects on how freedom is unequally distributed to people of color. There are two structures represented in the image: one with the Declaration on Independence transcribed on a neo-classical building; the other with excerpts from What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?, the popular title given to an untitled 1852 speech by Frederick Douglass represented by Birk as a text on the surface of a rock-like structure. A third text, originally penned by Thomas Jefferson for the first draft of the Declaration of Independence but later redacted, decries the slave trade as “execrable commerce” and is reproduced on a hanging panel, suspended atop shackles casting a shadow on the monument that bears the final version of the Declaration.