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Ashton Bird (USA, b. 1990) is an installation artist and architectural designer residing in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. He recently completed a 1-year contract as the John M. Anderson Visiting Assistant Professor through the Penn State School of Visual Arts located in State College, Pennsylvania. Relocating from Prague, Czechia he currently is a Master of Architecture candidate at the prestigious Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague. Bird was raised on a farm in southeast South Dakota, received his BFA from Minnesota State University-Mankato, apprenticed at Dakota Pottery in South Dakota, studied at Korea University in South Korea while briefly apprenticing at local Itaewon ceramic shop, and received his MFA from Florida State University. From 2015 to 2020, Ashton founded the 501c3 project space SOUP experimental where he curated 50+ on-site exhibitions, 24 video and written interviews, 3 public art crawls and several large-scale national collaborations between universities and private entities. Bird exhibits at traditional institutes, DIY projects, public art events and online venues. Notable locations include: Xiao Zhang Residence San Francisco, Klauzál6 Projekt Galéria, Loft Bubny Holešovice, Villa P651, MINT Atlanta, Atlanta Contemporary, Atlanta Fringe Festival, Day & Night Projects Atlanta, Wiregrass Museum of Art, Delaware Contemporary, Psychic Jacuzzi, The Washington Pavilion of South Dakota, 410 Gallery Mankato, Metropolitan Gallery 250 Philadelphia, Manifest Creative Research Gallery & Drawing Center Cincinnati, and Cat Family Records Tallahassee. He recently finished 3 residencies: a 3-month Nexus residency funded by the Nexus Fund/Andy Warhol Foundation at the Atlanta Contemporary, a private exhibition between Joshua Tree and San Francisco, California and a 1-month international invitation funded by the Municipality of Budapest, Hungary. From 2019 to 2022 Ashton was a full-time architectural lighting designer in The Johnson Studio at Cooper Carry. He has worked on several restaurant and hospitality ventures throughout the United States, but three notable projects include: Rumi’s Colony Square, Atlanta, Spaceman, Hyatt Buckhead and the Casa Don Alfonso, Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis.

“…given its ideal of progress, the fragmentary nature of modern existence continues to swing perpetually from the shock of the new to the dread of possible end and back again. Its ruins are not stable representations of the past but a constantly recycled aggregate of ideals, constructions, habitats, and tools that indict the present with its historical and potential future demise.” - 2015, From the Ruins, The Brooklyn Rail, Tom McGlynn

My practice is an exploration into the tumultuous journey of progress within cultures, portrayed through the transformation of discarded or renewed trash and building materials. I'm captivated by the oscillation between the euphoria of new advancements and the ominous dread of eventual decline in culture. The central motif of my artistic expression lies in the fragile dance of human ambition and vulnerability, mirrored in the psychology of constructed spaces. From makeshift shelters to towering monuments, I experiment with material –my installations and textural drawings become allegorical reflecting the triumphs and tribulations of civilizations. Through abstracted architectural forms, I infuse discarded remnants with life, transforming them into symbols of cultural resilience and fragility, inviting viewers to contemplate the timeless question of progress.

Over time my installations and drawings have grown to comment on how the built environment has become inexplicably entangled with the politics of financial return as opposed to human wellness and positive architectural ideology. Artworks can potentially reference money’s influence on contemporary spatial design. I explore installations that contain chosen construction materials that represent the built environment in a visual, autonomous abstracted form. I have developed a personal language of abstracted architectural practices and materials that typically involve a mixture of triangular shapes, vertical floating pillars, false columns, faux floors and brittle collaged facades that create the structure of the space and are developed on-site from found, discarded material pertinent to location. In preparation, I combine the found, manipulated objects with purchased items such as clay, cement, paints, drop cloths and carpet cushion. Overall, the work plays with weight, texture and time –referencing the delicateness of the current particular political situations throughout the globe: in Europe, the US, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. The assemblages explore human entropy, energy and community through discovering, re-invigorating and reinventing potentiality. The paintings or drawings are aesthetically colorful, and their form of composition is inspired by architectural language mixed with child-like notions of disillusioned yet pointed optimism. My work displays the rattling of place through referencing destruction, power, humanity, and innocence.

I have been particularly invested in the use of drying raw clay as metaphor for politics, law and governance. The use of raw clay is a poetic take on the idea of politics and air as both govern the existence of our lives: clay works as the representation of the body where it begins wet but is pre-determined to dry and expire. Much like this physical element, politics is a pervasive force beyond political parties that influences every aspect from our lives –from the air we breathe, waste we generate, and the materials we discard–politics dictate the systems and structures that govern our existence. Given the nature of existence, how can we independently influence the predestined state? How much agency do we have in shaping our lives and the world around us?
“It is on the plane of the daydream and not on that of facts that childhood remains alive and poetically useful within us. Through this permanent childhood, we maintain the poetry of the past. To inhabit oneirically the house we were born in means more than to inhabit it in memory; it means living in this house that is gone, the way we used to dream in it.”
- Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard

The societal challenges that exist today are demanding: climate change, increasing urbanization, negative potentials of artificial intelligence, hazardous infectious diseases, agricultural pollution, and land exhaustion–all negatively impact the human timeline and condition. I read the Bachelard quote as the poetics between disillusion and optimism. It is the child-like idea of imagining utopia – which realistically may never happen, but in this context, it is these dreams that inspire us to pursue progress. In 2015, I received a full-ride scholarship to the Florida State University’s Master of Fine Arts program in Tallahassee, Florida. At the time, my art broadly reflected human wellness. The deep-south in the United States was a culture shock from the northern Midwest region where I was raised. The Midwest is 80% Caucasian, and much U.S. history or topics of race are typically whitewashed or unspoken. In the contemporary south, race and identity politics cannot be hidden. I began researching the politics of planning, and its influence on rural and urban communities located in the United States. Sadly and –what is often overlooked, is that capitalism in the United States prospered because of the expropriation of land and people of color only two or three generations ago. Living in the southern United States you directly witness the politics of in-equity and inequality through segregation by design through zoning laws, urban renewal projects, redlining and even interstate construction. You also see the lineage of unsustainable agricultural practices that have spoiled large plots of land with the irresponsible production methods used from growing cotton. Capitalism has been the dominant economic system for centuries in the US, yet it has led to increasing ecological degradation and social inequality. The use of land and resources has often been driven by profit rather than sustainability, resulting in widespread pollution, habitat loss, and depletion of soil. Moreover, capitalism has created a culture of waste and overconsumption, which has been a major contributor to climate change and biodiversity loss. Through my art, research and experimentation I seek to comment on capitalism’s methods of extraction on the world. As it has provided prosperity for many people, it certainly cannot go unspoken that the powers have disrupted, ruined and extorted many. It is not a question about it being good or bad, but more so how can capitalism evolve for the state of place. What is after unsustainable extorting capitalism? What is after the ruination? Is it utopic?

I am inspired by how the human condition driven by the ideal of progress is characterized within a constant fluctuation between excitement for new developments and the immortal fear of eventual decline. The ruins or what once was of this existence are not simply remnants of the past, but rather a mixture of past and present ideals, structures, living spaces, and technologies that serve as a reminder of both the historical failures and potential future decline. I find time’s state of flux and its movement between embracing the future and fear of its end quite motivating, tragic and poetic. The notion of death and collapse for both the social and personal is ever present.

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