Michael Ashkin's work spans various media, including sculpture, installation, photography, video, poetry, and text. His work addresses issues of landscape, architecture, and urbanism, specifically the intersection of subjectivity with the social, economic, and political production of space. After receiving a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and an MA from Columbia University in Middle East Languages and Cultures, he worked in the business world for eight years before choosing to become an artist. He received an MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1993. Since then he has shown extensively nationally and internationally including the Whitney Biennial (1997), Greater New York (2000), Documenta 11 (2002), and Vienna Secesion (2009). He has been awarded two Pollock-Krasner Fellowships (1997, 2012) and a Guggenheim Fellowship (2009). He is currently Chair of the Department of Art at Cornell University.
Since 2004, I have made several miniature cardboard cities of extensive proportions. The first, “Adjnabistan” (literally “land of the stranger/other”), was an attempt to simultaneously imagine utopia and commence building from a starting point of political and economic exclusion. Both the architectural/urban structure and its utopian imaginery were open to continual modifications. Accordingly, I treated the city as a sculptural drawing that would end arbitrarily upon arrival at the exhibition. To allow rapid erasure and reconfiguration coupled with standardized materiality, I used corrugated cardboard. The project entailed no pretense to reach the utopic (if anything, the process tended toward the dystopic); its goal was to regard art as the linkage of re-construction and re-thinking, while maintaining fidelity to a “utopian impulse.” In the end, however, what interested me most about this project was the model city’s stubborn and mute opacity in the face of any intentionality.
Between 2006 and 2010 I thus built several other large miniature cardboard cities concentrating on the representational otherness that first became evident in the vastness and inaccessibility of “Adjnabistan.” Using Google Earth imagery and other mediated source materials, these were modeled directly on the rapidly expanding urban agglomerations in the global south where modernist urban/architectural elements hybridize with the vernacular. Their controlled use of scale, distance, and perspective allowed the observer to simultaneously ponder the organizational logic of what was seen as well as question from what viewpoint it was studied and judged.
“Adjnabistan” has been the subject of a solo exhibition at Andrea Rosen Gallery (NYC) in 2005 and has been shown in reconfigurations at Andrew Kreps Gallery (New York); Palais de Tokyo (Paris); and in reconfigured and retitled form at Galerie Erna Hecey (Brussels), Heidelberger Kunstverein, MUDAM (Luxembourg), Museum für Gegenwartskunst Siegen, and Artsonje Center (Seoul). Other cities have been exhibited at Carriage Trade (NYC); SculptureCenter (New York), Secession (Vienna), and Herbert F. Johnson Museum (Ithaca).