What is America today? What is it like to grow up in a country that since 9/11 has constantly been arousing new fears and neuroses? Ajay Kurian looks behind the scenes of a utopia that has become brittle, which increasingly seems to slip away from its inhabitants. He arranges smoldering city models made from e-cigarettes, fluorescent-colored plexiglass vitrines with magic balls, unsettling cartoon characters, iPad mounts, moss, magnets and other small-scale utensils into psychedelically glowing dioramas and uncanny settings, which act like a mixture of fairyland, laboratory and science fiction set. They are metaphors for a world of objects, both man-made and otherwise, which slip into the fabric of our lives, creating or altering our emotional and social atmospheres. They represent childhood, religion, racism, house, garden, comics, consumption, and violence. Kurian investigates the classical parameters of the American, but generally Western society, conducting the surreal dystopian traditions of Mike Kelley or Edward Kienholz, but twisting it so that the normative Western body is questioned. As the son of Indian immigrants, Kurian’s formulation of the history of art and its future makes a careful point to insist that the space of phenomenology is never simple or universal, and that these aesthetic and social atmospheres will be racialized—as they always have—down to our very perception. Through his own playful and complex style, informed by new technologies as well as crude self-made aesthetics, these contorted systems come to life.
In his exhibition at CAPRI – Kurian’s first solo show in Europe – the artist has mounted blue neons in the shape of the logo for the "Neighborhood Crime Watch” turned on its side, thus making the watchful eye become a kind of large droplet and turning this citizen-run surveillance into a kind of baptismal drop. With the rise of police killings and vigilante justice, largely against African Americans and people of color, such an eye takes on a sorrowful and sinister aura. Originally installed in the basement of a dilapidated building in his hometown, these eyes evoke a strange power, indicating that even the darkest chamber – the basement as a place of retreat as well as childhood traumas – is under observation. They are hovering above chromed ostrich eggs and silvered sweet potatoes, nested in a pile of dirt. Kurian named his exhibition “Incubator,” as if a strange, poisonous creature is being hatched here. On the wall, an earth plateau shows an alien miniature landscape with basil sprouts, under which two hands appear: what grows here, we do not know – and it is not within our control.
Ajay Kurian, born in 1984, lives in New York. He has shown solo exhibitions at 47 Canal in New York, at White Flag Projects in St. Louis and at Artspeak in Vancouver, amongst others. His group exhibitions include Greater New York at MoMA PS1 (2015) and nature after nature at Fridericianum Kassel (2014).
Text: Gesine Borcherdt, Curator of CAPRI