Ashkin Publishes Were it Not For
Michael Ashkin's were it not for — a new 256-page book (Fw:Books, 2019) that brings text to a long sequence of black and white photographs, is the result of his year-long writing and recording of linguistic reinforcements of ideological status quo, and a selection from more than 750 images taken over several trips to the Mojave Desert and surrounding areas.
"The text came first and was not originally thought of as a support for any visual material," says Ashkin, associate professor and chair of the Department of Art. "I wrote it entirely at night, in the dark, when lines would come to me during periods of insomnia, which is why the text contains bursts of condensed logic and shifts in register."
Ashkin began work on the written piece that invokes a world of physical, geographic, economic, or ideological separations 10 years ago. He has since read it to public audiences multiple times, the first being at the Second World Congress of Free Artists organized by the Camel Collective in Aarhus, Denmark, in 2009. Taking on the form and rhythmic qualities of a list, the writing shares the intentional repetition of form across the images that are all both edited for uniformity and printed at the same size, format, and placement on the page.
"Both the text and photos show what the 'California Ideology' has produced in our world," explains Ashkin. "A situation where 'anything is possible' has produced its opposite. And it is not as if we have gotten to the bottom of this ideology, which, of course, is its own variant of hypercapitalism."
Ashkin partnered with Amsterdam-based Fw:Books designer and editor Hans Gremmen to determine the design, content, and length of were it not for, a work that they decided should have varied effects on its readers including uncanny resonance, difficult image/text relationships, and an immediate resemblance to the quotidian aspects of the world it references.
By Edith Fikes