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Ajay Kurian’s Unilateral Educational Disarmament, currently on view at JOAN, casts a critical net over the compromised objectives of primary educational themes. Within a vitrine at the gallery’s entrance, plastic gingerbread men pose amid a myriad of fluorescent-lit bells—an overt nod to Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s controversial The Bell Curve (1994). The work, Comfort Station #5 (Mind the Gap, Praise the Curve) (2016), presents this popular “boy” of folklore as a pluralized, fossilized toy, surrounded by wavering symbolic markers of normativity.
Around the corner, a group of science-fictionalized school children hang from black climbing ropes. Those on the chalk-dusted floor composed of interlocking black mats—an aestheticized gymnasium—claw at each other and motion “come hither” gestures towards the viewer. One wears a neck brace and leg cast with racial and homophobic slurs scrawled on it; another holds a gun to his head. Perhaps the artist deploys such heavy-handed metaphors in order to give agency to youth devoured by malignant social narratives—biased testing procedures or inexplicable school shootings, both of which ironically leave children behind, literally and/or figuratively.
Formally, each of these sculptures possess strange, surreal moments at which to marvel. Collectively though, when paired with the artist’s hyperbolic mission statement/press release, Kurian’s work reads as sophisticated and sophomoric, genuine and erratic. Like the typically tone-deaf, yet well-intentioned parents and teachers who attempt to meddle and mediate, Kurian crusades through sustained feedback in order to fight for the marginalized and underprivileged. Yet, between the didactic tenor of the associated text and the overwrought appliqué of the works on display, Kurian ends up disarming his own inspired agenda.
Ajay Kurian: Unilateral Educational Disarmament runs February 13–March 27, 2016 at JOAN (4300 W Jefferson Boulevard #1, Los Angeles, CA 90016)