Magazine article Artforum International

Ajay Kurian: Rowhouse Project

Magazine article Artforum International

Ajay Kurian: Rowhouse Project

Article excerpt

BALTIMORE

Ajay Kurian

ROWHOUSE PROJECT

At the recent exhibition of Mike Kelley's "Kandor" series at Hauser & Wirth in New York, it was easy to forget that these seductive glass-enclosed resin cityscapes--essentially overwrought snow globes--were emblems of trauma. In comic-book lore, Kandor is the last remnant of Superman's destroyed planet, Krypton, shrunk down and preserved beneath a bell jar. "Kandor now sits, frozen in time," wrote Kelley, "a perpetual reminder of [Superman's] inability to escape that past, and his alienated relationship to his present world." The influence of Kelley's Kandors is evident throughout the work Ajay Kurian has made over the past five years: Plexiglas displays of jawbreakers, action figures, betta fish, e-cigarettes, reindeer moss, magnets, iPad holders, and other choice tchotchkes arranged to evoke otherworldly territories or hallucinatory natural-history dioramas. The sculptures in "Work Harder Under Water," Kurian's first solo show in his hometown Baltimore, revealed a continued preoccupation with the Kandors, though with a shift in focus from the formal to the thematic--that is, from alien landscapes to alienation.

I confess to some embarrassment at even mentioning alienation in an art review. So hackneyed! It reeks of action painting's privileged brooding. But strip the word of its Sartrean and Marxist varnish, and you're left with alien. In a statement accompanying "Work Harder," Kurian writes vividly, angrily, of how the sense of belonging he experienced as the son of a prosperous Indian doctor began to crack in the wake of 9/11, when suddenly his skin color flagged him as a security threat. Baltimore, news reports attest, has lately been showing its fissures as well. A status quo of disenfranchisement has given way to outright riot and rising violence. Rowhouse Project, the show's host venue, is a typical Baltimore residence that, between exhibitions, undergoes periodic renovations for eventual resale. Kurian took advantage of this unusual (and unheimlich) situation, treating the venue as a city-in-miniature--a Kandor, if you will--where, between floorboards and slatted walls, structural instabilities could assume a texture and shape.

The awkward greetings started in the foyer with a frog-faced black-a-moor, an amphibian cousin to the obeisant figurines that populated Fred Wilson's US pavilion project at the 2003 Venice Biennale. …

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