"Adjnabistan" is the name of the anti-nationality I invented with a friend while traveling through the Middle East in the late 1970s. Derived from the Arabic "adjnabi" (meaning "foreigner," "stranger," or "other"), this land of impossible origin proved useful, especially in Iran, where, as an American, one needed to avoid treacherous political discussions. If said with the proper lightness of tone, "Adjnabistan" could provoke a smile or even be accepted without question. In any event, we could not be accused of lying or insincerity; in fact, the more I used this word over the months, the more I came to develop mental images of this shadow homeland. These images varied widely and, like a dream, spanned numerous geographies, but empathetically included aspects of the political and economic neglect evident in the landscapes through which we passed.

For this project Ashkin revived the idea of Adjnabistan in order to assert its utopian possibilities. As a basis of working, he acknowledged and offset two related and oppressive qualities of utopian thought: first, that the logic of spatial organization is political and is based on exclusion as much as inclusion; second, that utopian projects develop an idealist space isolated from material reality. The piece thus became a dialectical thinking through of the conflict that exists between imaginary models of societal perfectibility and the structural limits of reality.

To illustrate the most extreme version of the schism between ideas and means, Ashkin imagined Adjnabistan as a community at the far end of exclusion, i.e., as a squatter/refugee/concentration camp built from used or abandoned shipping containers, situated in a fringe wasteland. The physical piece developed accordingly, with three forces asserting themselves: the inhabitants' hopes and aspirations; the social, political and economic constraints they encountered; and finally, the artist's own interests in developing a work of art. As the piece developed, fences were built, torn down and rebuilt. Watch towers became guard towers. Family compounds became prisons then perforated by fresh doorways. Structures too grandiose were dismantled and scavenged. The town underwent cycles of overflow and attrition. Populations thrived, perished or set themselves adrift in the surrounding desert.

Michael Ashkin holds an MA in Middle East Languages and Cultures from Columbia University and an MFA in Painting/Drawing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. This is his fourth solo show with the gallery.