Born in 1984, AJAY KURIAN is an artist living and working in New York. Using a variety of materials and mediums, Kurian has developed a particular sculptural voice that seeks to address the strangeness of the things we make and the things that make us. He has exhibited internationally and recently had solo exhibitions at 47 Canal in New York and Jhaveri Contemporary in India. Recent group shows have been held at Art:Concept, Paris; MoMA PS1, Jack Hanley, New York, and Hannah Barry, London. He presented a performative lecture at the New Museum in 2013 and has organized exhibitions under the heading of Gresham’s Ghost in years past. Kurian will be participating in a group show at Carlier Gebauer in Berlin during Berlin Gallery Week in May 2014.
A curator and writer based in San Francisco, where she is Curator and Head of Programs at the CCA Wattis Institute. Nguyen was formerly Director/Curator of Artspeak from 2011-2016. Her writing has appeared in exhibition catalogues and periodicals nationally and internationally, with recent texts in catalogues published by Pied-à-Terre (San Francisco), Gluck 50/Mousse (Milan), and the Herning Museum of Art (Denmark). Nguyen is the recipient of the 2015 Hnatyshyn Foundation Award for Emerging Curators in Contemporary Canadian Art and the 2016 Joan Lowndes Award from the Canada Council for the Arts for excellence in critical and curatorial writing.
April 12–May 24, 2014
Do you think that I’m attempting to trace any ghosts?
I don’t know if you are tracing the ghost or if you are collecting, relocating, and generating them. The ghost always exists somewhere in between but is never the original, and I think you are not particularly interested in accuracy even if your work has elements of precision. It’s not about following the ghosts to a specific end point or in a predetermined manner but rather making the path less finite or elongated.
Art often feels much more like an encounter of some kind than a thing–an encounter that can unfold a series of divergent paths, an encounter with a thing that never has as good of a name as the encounter itself.
Do we really want art to be the encounter though?
The encounter is something that exists whether we want it to or not. Some days the painting in my bedroom is art. Other days it is decor and stuff on the wall. Some days the Pollock at the Met is art. Other days it is an oversized print that I’ve seen in too many clichés. The tradition of much of art from the 20th century is to make us avid and inquisitive in how we address the world around us. Much of it came from out of daily life, asking and sometimes imploring us to look again. Sometimes for beauty, sometimes for savagery, oftentimes a cocktail of the two and many other ingredients. In a way, art kept training us to see differently, to begin to diagnose the world on our own, without its help. After seeing so many Aaron Siskind photographs as a kid, I certainly didn’t look at the marks on the walls the same way. But after I noticed the marks on the walls, Aaron Siskind wasn’t really that compelling anymore. I realized early that art was not eternal, it was something that mattered sometimes and not in a linear way. I suppose this is what I mean by the encounter. Some encounters don’t go away, but some do—some come back. Either way, cultural periods allow for different encounters and what that means.
I initially interpreted your definition of encounter in a different way, but I think we actually agree, or that we have arrived at the same destination through different paths. It helps to hear your exposition. I also believe that these definitions are shifting, contingent on time, circumstance and context, and that this fluidity of time, memory, and perception is a bit of a trained exercise. I do not consider art to be eternal and actually have grown so incredibly weary of “legacy” in the past few years for similar reasons. Your perspective is perhaps less cynical than mine. To clarify my initial reaction: let’s say I see a billowing curtain in a window. At some point in my life maybe I think it’s beautiful and poetic in that American Beauty bag in the wind sort of way. And then tomorrow I think it’s just a curtain. And maybe I like that it’s just a curtain, and that there isn’t much more to it, and that’s okay. I have such a sensitivity to the colonialist nature of art that maybe I just want certain things in my life to not be defined by it, to somehow exist in parallel but not be in service of. Sometimes I so painfully want a curtain to just be a curtain because if it’s anything more, I may not have much left to give.
I have a bottle in my studio that has layers of painting medium encrusted within it like layered, golden skins. Every time I’d use it (when I used to paint) it would crust over and I’d have to bust its surface to get more out. So you can see all that history in this bottle. It’s a beautiful object, but I never want it to be art…
I named the title of this show “Tapetum Lucidum.” Why do you think that is?
I think the title references an abstract understanding of time but also a tension between senses and the ability to see the infinite. Perhaps somewhere in these reflections of light lies the myth of salvation.
On another track, I might bring your attention to this as well:
Maybe these are the clouds of salvation?
The darkest part of that video for me was how they made a very close mold of the man’s head and then proceeded to erase his face entirely in order to make the mask. Both this mask and Sabbath’s song are like a sad reverse Medusa. Are these replicas and surrogates some form of uchronic dream?
There is also a funny uncanny moment in which Letterman is smoking the e-cig and I realize that he’s allowed to do it because we have no rules about televising the smoking of nicotine water vapour (or when Katherine Heigl stumbled over whether or not she could say she inhaled). It’s okay because we all believe in the artifice? Is it depressing that we no longer see (or desire to see?) beyond the myth?
I didn’t know what uchronic meant so I searched for it on Google and was really fascinated by its definition: not a completely fictional time, but one that is maybe an alternative, a hypothetical, still related to our reality but still not ours. Its provenance is also rather interesting.
It is indeed. I think I initially encountered it with regards to reenactments, particularly historical reenactors and their desire to participate in these activities. It was sort of questioning whether they reenacted events because they were not personally involved but feel that they can somehow change history (or memories), or write themselves into it, to generate some sort of alternate (but equally real) history.
I curated a show in St. Louis at White Flag Projects about 4 years ago and they have a library upstairs and I thought of creating various plaques for the library: Historical Fiction, Science Fiction, Religious Fiction, Utility Fiction, Platonic Fiction, Bastard Fiction…the list could go on almost endlessly.
Platonic Fiction is really just the best, I love that.
Title: Tapetum Lucidum
Writers: Sebastian Black, Ajay Kurian
Editor: Kim Nguyen
Category: Exhibition Publication
Design: Julie Peeters, Scott Ponik
Year published: 2014
Binding: Staple bound
Printing: Image Press Works
Features: Pretty big
Dimensions: 20.5 x 8.5 x 0.5 cm
Price: $4 CDN
The following conversation between Ajay Kurian and Sebastian Black took place between February 17 and April 3, 2014, in anticipation of Kurian’s exhibition at Artspeak, April 12-May 24, 2014. Reminiscent of Hollis Frampton and Carl Andre’s 12 Dialogues 1962-63 (1980)—a series of exchanges produced by taking turns on a typewriter—Kurian and Black conducted the interview on computers written in the company of each other. The result is a call and response mediated through text rather than spoken. Composed in four sittings, each session lasted several hours, concluding when the conversation that day came to an organic end. The two artists would resume the dialogue the following week, continuing this pattern until exhaustion and satisfaction marked an appropriate finish.