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Michael Ashkin
by Max Henry

Michael Ashkin "#33" (detail), 1996

Architecture as a Sculptural Paradigm

The desolate highway/road on the fringe of rural/city life is an ever-present leitmotif in the tabletop architectural landscapes created for a solo show by artist Michael Ashkin. In an elegantly rendered homage to Minimalism, three tabletops are joined as a modular whole to extend 21 feet by four feet, representing in scale, 1/4-mile stretches along the interstates and routes that form the infrastructure for industry to carry on in its day to day operations.

It is the ordinary which fascinates the artist. An ordinariness which is extremely remote and mundane (the ennui of attrition) postulates into a meditational study on repetition. Common raw materials are used to build; i.e. cheap plywood, hobby kit parts and trucks, and the oxymoronic Envirotex, an extremely toxic liquid compound used to compose the muddled cesspool caked with dirt and floating tires beneath a single suspended highway to oblivion. A lone oil tanker foreshadows an impending doom. In spite of all this rubric, Ashkin, in selecting and arranging his terrain, maintains a linear order, bottom up, from the neat line of saw horses that hold the entire platform at about waist level, to the line of drainage conduits parallel to the bridge just above water level, to the eternal row of telephone poles--cables with just enough give to sway gently in unison.

Encoded in the work is a film-still quality with subplots on the departure of form for form's sake, Modernism's failure to nourish and sustain, nature's broken cycle of plant and animal life (what has happened to the foliage?) and a poet's touch for meter. The miniature scale is a quiescent distillation of an essence; the low-tech aspects (manual hand labor) of industry effaced by the precision of industrial machinery and tools; the patina of decay.

"What befalls the selfish act of man, is what makes man an outcast from the unity of nature."-1 An outcast, whose chosen apostolic stand against nature belabors industries' continuous demand for product and land. It is the supernatural which hovers over Ashkin's barren landscape. It is a world created within a mathematical paradigm of perspective and line.

1-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Max Henry

New York, New York


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