Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick are a collaborative artist team who have been working together since they met while attending art school at Washington University in St. Louis in the early 1980s. Both were born in 1964, in New York City and London respectively. They work primarily in the fields of photography and installation art, specializing in fictitious histories set in the past or future.   These may include: documentary-style panoramic and square photographs that combine absurdist fantasy and bogus anthropology; elaborately crafted artifact, costumes and sculpture, often constructed of unlikely materials such as bread or fur, painting and drawings ranging from large scale works on plaster to pages of conceptual doodling. Kahn lives in Ghent NY, and Selesnick in Rhinebeck NY.

Their current work features the recreation of the famousTruppe Fledermaus's Memory Theatre of 1932 with its full complement of Batfolk, Greenmen, Rope-Slingers, and Death-Dancers in all theirCarnivalesque glory.  Kahn & Selesnick have participated in over 100 solo and group exhibitions worldwide and have work in over 20 collections, including the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Houston Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Institution. In addition, they have published 3 books with Aperture Press, Scotlandfuturebog. , City of Salt, and Apollo Prophecies.

Richard Selesnick and Nicholas Kahn

Richard Selesnick and Nicholas Kahn

NICHOLAS MILES KAHN & RICHARD SELESNICK

Nicholas Miles Kahn, b. 1964, New York

Richard Selesnick, b. 1964, London

 

 

EDUCATION

1986     BFAs, Washington University, St. Louis

 

                        

SOLO EXHIBITIONS

2015   Truppe Fledermaus, Suny Ulster Gallery, Marbletown NY

           Truppe Fledermaus, Warner Gallery, St. Andrews School, Middletown, Delaware.

           Truppe Fledermaus 3, Schoolhouse Gallery, Provincetown MA.

           Truppe Fledermaus, Dreams of a Drowning World, Robischon Gallery, Denver Co.

2014Truppe Fledermaus, Jackson Fine Art, Atlanta

          Truppe Fledermaus, Hammer Gallery, Chicago

          Truppe Fledermaus, Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York

          Truppe Fledermaus, Carroll & Sons, Boston

2013Mars: Adrift on the Hourglass Sea, Boise Art Museum, Boise, Id

         Truppe Fledermaus, Cleveland State University, Cleveland

          Truppe Fledermaus 2, Schoolhouse Gallery, Provincetown, Ma.

         Truppe Fledermaus, Gallery 51, North Adams, Ma

          Mars: Adrift on the Hourglass Sea, Galeria Mü, Bogata, Columbia

         Truppe Fledermaus, Kopeikin Gallery, Los Angeles

         Truppe Fledermaus, Robischon Gallery, Denver

2012Truppe Fledermaus, Schoolhouse Gallery, Provincetown, Ma.

2011City of Salt, Galeria Mü, Bogata, Columbia

          Apollo Procephies & Mars: Adrift on the Hourglass Sea, Brenau University

          Mars: Adrift on the Hourglass Sea, Carrie Haddad Photo, Hudson, NY

          Mars: Adrift on the Hourglass Sea, Kopeikin Gallery, Los Angeles

          Mars: Adrift on the Hourglass Sea, Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York

          Mars: Adrift on the Hourglass Sea, Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago

          Apollo Procephies & Mars: Adrift on the Hourglass Sea, Museum of 

            Contemporary Photography, Chicago

2010   Mars: Adrift on the Hourglass Sea, Carroll & Sons Gallery, Boston  

           Kahn and Selesnick Cress Gallery, University of Tennessee, Chattanooga

           Eisbergfreistadt & Other Fictions Torch Gallery, Amsterdam, Netherlands

           Eisbergfreistadt Overbeck-Gesellschaft Museum, Lübeck, Germany

2009Eisbergfreistadt  World’s End Contemporary, London, UK    

Eisbergfreistadt  DNA Gallery, Provincetown, Ma.
           Eisbergfreistadt, Robishcon Gallery, Denver, CO

    Eisbergfreistadt, Kopeikin Gallery, Los Angeles, CA 

    Eisbergfreistadt & Apollo Prophecies, Kohler Art Center, Sheboygan, WI

    Eisbergfreistadt & Apollo Prophecies, Untitled [ArtSpace], Oklahoma City, OK

2008     Eisbergfreistadt, Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago 

      The Apollo Prophecies, Hiestand Gallery of Art, Miami University, Ohio 

     Eisbergfreistadt, Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York 

      Eisbergfreistadt, Lisa Sette Gallery, Scottsdale 

      Kahn & Selesnick: A Ten Year Retrospective, Aeroplastics Gallery, Brussels  

2007     Eisbergfreistadt, Pepper Gallery, Boston

    Eisbergfreistadt, Irvine Contemporary, Washington DC

2006       The Art of Kahn and Selesnick, Dowd Fine Arts Center, SUNY Cortland

    Kahn/Selesnick: A Ten Year Retrospective, Robischon Gallery,  Denver

2005    The Apollo Prophecies, Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago

    The Apollo Prophecies, Irvine Contemporary, Washington, D.C.

    The Apollo Prophecies, Lisa Sette Gallery, Scottsdale

        The Apollo Prophecies, Paul Kopeikin Gallery, Los Angeles

        Nomadischespuppetheater, Berta Walker Gallery, Provincetown

2004The Apollo Prophecies, Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York

    The Apollo Prophecies, DNA Gallery Provincetown

            The Apollo Prophecies, Pepper Gallery, Boston

2003City of Salt, Focus Gallery, London

    City of Salt, Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York

2002    Scotlandfuturebog, Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York

    City of Salt, Paul Kopeikin Gallery, Los Angeles

    City of Salt, Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago

    City of Salt, Pepper Gallery Boston

    City of Salt, Lisa Sette Gallery, Scottsdale

2001    City of Salt, DNA Gallery, Provincetown

           Scotlandfuturebog, Carrie Haddad Gallery, Hudson, New York

2000    The REC, Past-Future, Palo Alto Arts Center, California    

    Schottensumpfkunftig, DNA Gallery, Provincetown 

    Past and Future, Lisa Sette Gallery, Scottsdale 

    Transmissions from the Schottensumpfkumpftig, David Beitzel Gallery, New York

1999    Schottensumpfkunftig, Pepper Gallery, Boston 

    The Circular River, Paul Kopeikin Gallery, Los Angeles    

1998    The Circular River, Monique Knowlton, New York 

The Circular River, Eli Marsh Gallery, Amherst College    

    Bachelier Cardonsky Gallery, Kent, Connecticut

Carrie Haddad Gallery, Hudson, New York

    The Circular River, Pepper Gallery Boston

1997    The Pavilion of the Greenman, Monique Knowlton, New York

    The Burren Expedition, East End Gallery, Provincetown 

    The Journals of Peter Hesselbach, Monique Knowlton, New York

    Tent of the Mesmer, Gallery Camino Real, Boca Raton

    The Photographic Journals of Peter Hesselbach, Pepper Gallery, Boston

1996    Tent of the Mesmer, Bachelier Cardonsky Gallery, Kent, Connecticut  

    The Golden Age of Devonshire Semaphore: Royal Excavation Corps Signal Flag

     Manouevres 1934-36, East End Gallery, Provincetown

    The Roodloft of the Drunken Beekeeper, Monique Knowlton, New York

1995    Zelt der Biscuit Mench, East End Gallery, Provincetown

    Chapel Dedicated to the Human Head, Hudson Walker Gallery, Provincetown. Collabrative Paintings, Gallery Camino Real, Boca Raton        

1994    The Eskimo Paintings, Bachelier Cardonsky Gallery, Kent, Connecticut

    The Biscuit Triptychs, East End Gallery, Provincetown

1993       Bog Pastries and Bread Heads from the Archives of the Royal Excavation Corps,                      

       Forum Gallery, New York

    Painted Heads, East End Gallery, Provincetown

The Delusional Object: Banners and Artefacts from the Royal Excavation Corps, Diana Burke, New York

1992     Flagman Artefacts, East End Gallery, Provincetown

1991     East End Gallery, Provincetown

    Owen Patrick Gallery, Philadelphia

    Klein Art Gallery, Woodstock

 

 

GROUP EXHIBITIONS

 

2014   Alles Maskerade!  MEWO Kunsthalle, Memmingen, Germany

           Breaking Ground  William & Mary College, Williamsburg, Virginia

           Icarus: an Exploration of the Human Urge to Fly UNC Charlotte

           Uncanny Spaces Usdan Gallery, Bennington College

           Dawn to Dusk, Queensland Center for Photography, Brisbane, Australia

           Vanishing Ice, Whatcom Museum, Bellingham, Wa

           Vanishing Ice, El Paso Museum of Art, El Paso, Tx

           Vanishing Ice, Glenbow Museum, Calgary, Canada

2013   Extraordinary, Nooderlicht Photo Festival, The Netherlands

            Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: An Artist’s Guide to the World, Florence Griswold 

                  Museum, Old Lyme, Ct

            First Contact, Gallery Project, Ann Arbor, Mi.

            Lies that Tell the Truth: Magic Realism in Contemporary Art, Indiana State 

                  University, Terra Haute, In

           Nature’s Toolbox: Biodiversity, Art, and Invention, The Leonardo, Salt Lake City

           Nature’s Toolbox: Biodiversity, Art, and Invention, Ulrich Museum, Wichita, Ka

2012   Covet: Art + Objects, Ferrin Gallery, Pittsfield, Ma

           One of a Kind: Unique Artist’s Books, Dalhousie Gallery, Halifax, Canada

           A Dream of Eternity, Villa Empain, Boghossian Foundation, Brussels, Belgium

           Terra Cognita, Museum Belvedere, Heerenveen-Oranjewoud, Netherlands

           Nature’s Toolbox: Biodiversity, Art, and Invention, The Field Museum, Chicago

           New Yorker Fiction: Real Photographs, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, 

                   Beijing, China  

2011One of a Kind: Unique Artist’s Books, Pierre Menard Gallery, Boston

            New Yorker Fiction: Real Photographs, Stephen Kasher Gallery, New York

            Worlds, Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, Ca

            Beautiful Vagabonds, Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York

            Saturnalia, Irvine Contemporary, Washington DC

2010The Nature of Cities, United Nations Pavillion, Expo 2010, Shanghai, China

2009    2009 Godowsky Award Winners, Photographic Resource Center, Boston, Ma

Miroirs d’Orients, Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille, Lille, France

Art on the Moon, Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne, Germany

2008    Such Great Heights, Carrie Haddad Photographs, Hudson, NY 

    Melting Ice, Hot Topic, Field Museum, Chicago, IL,

    Melting Ice, Hot Topic, Ministry of Culture, Monaco, 

Eco-Sophia, Sheppard Fine Arts Gallery, University of Nevada,  Reno Nevada, 

2007    Melting Ice, Hot Topic, Nobel Peace Center, Oslo, Norway

    Melting Ice, Hot Topic, Bozar Museum, Brussels, Belgium

    Art from NASA’s Collection The Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC

    Rare Essence, Aeroplastics Gallery, Brussels, Belgium

2006    The Twilight Zone, Carrie Haddad Gallery, Hudson, New York

    Fellows, Hudson Walker Gallery, Fine Arts Work Center, Provincetown, Ma

2005    Dreamscapes, Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, Wisconsin

The City: Contemporary Views of the Built Environment, Lehman College Art Gallery, New York

Regional Triennial of Photographic Arts, Center for Photography at Woodstock

2004Dreamweavers, Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York 

The City: Cotemporary Views of the Built Environment, Lehman College of Art

2003    Re-presenting Representation VI, Arnot Museum of Art, New York

First Photographs: Henry Fox Talbot and the Birth of Photography, Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego

2001Rumors of War: A Contemporary Exhibition Inspired by the Art of Jacob Lawrence, Triple Candie, New York.

Digital: Printmaking Now, Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York         Works by Fellows of the Fine Arts Work Center, Cape Cod Museum of Art

Photosynthesis: Recent Developments in Contemporary Photography, Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts

Of Dreams and Dreamers: Art as a Vehicle of Escape, Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago

Photo-Synthesis: Recent Developments in Contemporary Photography, Gallery Camino Real, Boca Raton

2001    False Witness: Joan Fontcuberta, Sputnik, and Kahn/Selesnick, David Winton 

                Bell Gallery, Brown University, Providence

2000     American Art Today: Fantasies & Curiousities, The Art Museum, Florida 

    International University, Miami              

1999    Referencing the Past: Six Contemporary Artists: Kahn/Selesnick, John O’Reilly,

George Condo, David McGee, and Laurie, Hogan, Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts

    Rattling the Frame, 1974-1999, Camera Works, San Francisco 

Dramatis Personae: A Look at Role-playing and Narrative in Contemporary Photography, Photographic Resource Center, Boston University Faces of Time: 75 Years of Time Magazine Cover Portraits, National Portrait 

         Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.  

Expanded Visions: The Panoramic Photograph, Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover

Self-amused: The Contemporary Artist as Observer and Observed, Brush Art Gallery, Lowell, Ma

 10 Artists/10 Visions, De Cordova Museum and Sculpture Park, Lincoln, Ma 

 Provincetown in Hudson, Carrie Haddad Gallery, New York

1995    Kopeikin Gallery, Los Angeles

    Inaugural Group Show, Monique Knowlton, New York

1994-95 Visual Arts Fellows from the Fine Arts Work Center, Drerup Gallery, Plymouth State College

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

2015   Lewis Lapham “Them”  Lapham’s Quarterly  Winter issue

2014   Adrienne Parks “Snozzberries for the Yellow King: Why True Detective is a 

                 Religious Text” The Mockingbird, Summer Issue

           Goings on about Town: Art The New Yorker, July

           Vicki Goldberg “Art in Review” New York Times, June 20

           Cate McQuaid “An Exhibit gone Batty” Boston Globe, Jan 15

           Cover image Chronogram

           Portfolio and cover, Dawn to Dusk QCP Exhibition Catalogue

2013   Martha Schwendener, “The Organization of Art” New York Times, August 9

           Portfolio & Text, Picnic Magazine, Issue 53 

           Portfolio & Text, 1814 Magazine, Issue 4

           Harrison Berry, “Mars Revisited” Boise Weekly, June 12

           Susan Dunne “Raw Power of Nature” Hartford Courant, June 27

           Shearwater, “Fellow Travelers” Sub Pop Records, Album Cover

2012   Portfolio & Cover, Ecotone, Volume 8, Issue 1, Fall 2012 

           Matt Bua & Maximillian Goldfarb, “Architectural Inventions: Visionary Drawings”        

                  Laurence King Publishing, Hardcover 

            Emily Epstein, “Life on Mars” Daily Mail Online, Aug 15

            Hallie Sekoff, “Stunning Sci-Fi Art” Huffington Post, Aug 16

            Peter McCollough, “Mars-Inspired Art” Wired Magazine Online August 15

            Sara Nelson, “Mars: Adrift on the Hourglass Sea” Huffington Post UK, Aug 8

            Ann Landi, “Out of this World” ARTnews, June 14

            Christopher Bentley, “Creations of Biodiversity” New Scientist, June 16  

            Portfolio & Interview BLINK Magazine, Issue 10

            Shearwater, “Animal Joy”, Sub Pop Records, album cover

2011The Moth & The Flame, album cover

            Narayana Sewnandan “Meeting with Kahn & Selesnick” Blend Magazine, August 

            Kisa Lala, “Mythographers” Huffington Post, Feb 14 

            Holland Cotter “Beautiful Vagabonds” New York Times, Aug 11

            Reproductions, Philosophie Magazine, July

            Robert Hirsch, “Exploring Color Photography” Focal Press, paperback book

            Nick Flynn, “The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands” Greywolf Press, cover 

2010Sarah Falkner, “Alien Scenic Views,” Reality Sandwich, Oct

            Mark Feeney, “Exploring Brave New Worlds,”  The Boston Globe, Oct 1

            Jean Hess, “Kahn & Selesnick”, Art Papers July/August 

Maria Petersen “Eisbergfreistadt – Hintergründe zur Ausstellung” LübeckischeBlaätter April

Michael Berger “When an Iceberg threatened Lübeck” Lübecker Nachrichten,

       April 10

            Jennifer Calkins, “Kahn & Selesnick”, Eikon Magazine, Cover story, Issue 69

            Shearwater, “The Golden Archipelago”, Matador Records, album cover

            “Findings”, Harper’s Magazine January

             Greg Cook, “Photography after Facebook at the PRC”, Boston Phoenix, Jan 15            

2009    Mark Feeney, “Colorful, Alternate Realities”, Boston Globe, Dec 5 

            “Exhibition of the Month” GQ, October issue

            James Dean, Bert Ulrich, Tom couch, Michael Collins “NASA/ART: 50 Years of

      Exploration”, Abrams, hardcover book

Leah Ollman, “Kahn & Selesnick at Kopeikin,” The Los Angeles Times, July 31

    “Der Mond” Hatje Cantz, paperback book

    John Brandenburg, “Pano-vision,” The Oklahoman, Feb 22

Panoramic foldout, “The Space Age,” Outlook Magazine, China, 

Jonathan Lethem, “Lostronaut,” The New Yorker, Nov 17

2008    Shearwater, “Rook,” Matador Records, album cover

    Portfolio, “Horizons”, Ivory Press, hardcover book

Alan Artner, “Banknote Birds Recall Financial Panics of the Past”, The Chicago Tribune, Nov 7

    Portfolio, Vision Magazine, China, Nov

    Portfolio, Focus Magazine, The Netherlands, Feb

2007    Sarah Coleman, career review Photo District News, Feb 3

    “Findings,” Harper’s Magazine, September

Jan DesLoover “Kahn & Selesnick” Fotomuseum Antwerp Magazine, fall

 “Art in Action: Nature, Creativity & Our Creative Future,” Natural World Museum, hardcover book

Robert Hirsh, “Light and Lens: Photography in the Digital Age,” Focal Press, paperback book

        Mark Freely, “Eisbergfreistadt,” The Boston Globe, May 13 

        Jessica Dawson, “Reflecting on a Cultural Divide,” The Washington Post, Nov 19

        Shearwater, “Rook,” Matador Records, album cover

2006    book review “Pick of the Week: Ye Olde Astronaut,” Time Out NY, Sept

2005    “C Magazine” Ivory Press, hardcover book

        Portfolio, Photography Quarterly, fall issue

        Portfolio, Sides Magazine, Sept 

Jessica Dawson “Reflecting on a Cultural Divide,” The Washington Post, Oct. 6

        Review, Los Angeles Times, Jan. 

        “Findings,” Harper’s Magazine, July 

2004    Caroline Bagenal, “The Apollo Prophecies,” Art New England, Oct. 

    Cate McQuaid, “A Lunar Extravaganza,” The Boston Globe, p. C16, May 28

David Haycock, “The Extraordinary Findings of Kahn/Selesnick and the Royal Excavation     Corps,” Wraparound, pp 26-35, Spring

2003    “Next stop Shangri La,” Men’s Fashion of the Times, The New York Times, pgs  

                122-133, sept 21

Sarah Douglas, “Kahn/Selesnick at Yancey Richardson”  The Art Newspaper, June 13 p.5

2002    Portfolio, Provincetown Arts Magazine 

Cate McQuaid, “Self Portraits of the Artist as a Man facing Mortality," The Boston Globe, April 19

Vince Alletti, “More, More, More: the best photography books of 2002” Village Voice Feb. 3

Leah Ollman, “Power of Illusion and Desire” The Los Angeles Times Oct. 19

The Stamp Project, Cabinet Magazine pgs 63-65. Fall 2002 issue.

Colour reproductions, “Photography Past Forward: Aperture at 50” hardcover book, introduction by R.H.Cravens. Back cover, page 172. Aperture Press

    Miles Unger, “Head Games”, Boston Magazine, April

2001    Rich McKown, “Small Works from the Fine Arts Work Center at the Cape, 

                Museum of Fine Arts,” Art New England, Dec. 

Cate McQuaid, “Putting Provincetown in a Poignant New Light,” The Boston Globe, Aug. 4

William Jaeger, “Reassembled Visions,” Albany Times Union p.12, Jan. 28

Linda L. Fenoff, “Photographer’s Lenses Not Bogged Down by Reality” The Independent, p.24, Jan. 26

Bill Van Siclen, “At the Bell Gallery, Reality Keeps Slipping Away,” The Providence Journal p. 28,     Feb 15

2000    “Lost Horizons: An Imaginary Photograph Assignment by Collaborative Artists

            Kahn and Selesnick for the Men’s Fashion of the Times,” The New York Times Magazine, pp.106-116, Sept. 24

    “Readings,” Harper’s Magazine, p.38, April

    Richard Nilsen, “A Visionary Beauty,” The Arizona Republic, March 23

Roberta Smith,  “Kahn/Selesnick at David Beitzel Gallery”, The New York Times, March 10

Miles Unger,  “Tales of Intrigue for a Museum of Unnatural History,” The New York Times, pp.35, 38, Feb. 6

2000    Eileen Kennedy, “Art in Review: Kahn/Selesnick,Arts Media, p.11, Jan

Kate McQuaid, “Funny Phantasm, Emotional Edges & Realms of Beauty,” The Boston Globe, Dec. 30

1999    Leah Ollman, “A Provocative Trek into Pseudo-History,” The Los Angeles Times, 

            p. F28, Nov. 12

1998     Daniel Pinchbeck, “Boy’s Own Adventure Through Siberia,” The Art Newspaper, 

                p.72, November 

Vince Aletti,  “Choices: Art,” Village Voice, p. 72, December 1

Ken Johnson,  “Kahn and Selesnick at Monique Knowlton,” The New York Times, p.32, November 27

Christa Worthington, “Mining the Relics of Journeys Past,” New York Times, p. 45, November 22

Fredrick S. Voss, “Faces of Time: 75 years of Time Magazine Cover Portraits,” Little Brown, pp.126-7 

Matt Unger, “Kahn and Selesnick at Pepper,” Art News, pg.163, July

Grace Consoli,  “Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick: Panoramic Photographs from the Siberian Expeditions of 1944-46,” Arts Media, pp. 18-19, May

Kate McQuaid,  “Duo Makes Art by Faking History,” The Boston Globe, pp. C1, C4. May 9     

Lucy R. Lippard, “Moments of Grace: Spirit in the American Landscape,” Aperture, pp. 61, 66-7, winter issue

1997    Grady Turner, “Kahn/Selesnick at Monique Knowlton,” Art in America, p.130,  

                November

Kate McQuaid, “Kahn and Selesnick at the East End Gallery,” The Boston Globe, August 14

    Vince Aletti, “Choices: Art,” Village Voice, p.12, April 15

1996    Joanne Silver, “Visions Exhibit Draws a Perfect 10,” The Boston Herald, pp.14-

                15, June 20 

“Stranger in a Strange Land: a Collaborative Work by Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick,”     Arts Media, pp. 9-11, November

Souren Melikian, “In Another Orbit,” International Herald Tribune, October 26

 “Findings,” Harper’s Magazine, June

Roberta Smith, “Kahn and Selesnick at Monique Knowlton,” The New York Times, p.55, May 17

1995    Cover, Ploughshares, winter issue

Vivian Raynor, “In Kent Differing Image and Books as Endangered Species,” The New York Times, p. 20, May 14

1994    Cover and inner gatefold,Time Magazine (Man of the Year Issue, Pope John

                Paul II), pp.48-50, Dec.26

Nancy Stapen, “The Bold Meets the Soulful on Newbury St,” The Boston Globe, p. 57, Sept. 29 

Ann Wilson-Lloyd, “Selesnick and Kahn Collaborate a Clever Conceit,” Cape Cod Arts & Antiques, pp. 18-21, August

1993    K.C. Myers,  “Trust: the Collaboration of Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick,” 

                 Provincetown Arts, pgs. 91-93, Summer

Robert Taylor, “Outer Cape Art: Fresh Daily Catch,The Boston Globe, p. 27, July 24

 

 

MONOGRAPHS

 

2013Mars Revisited Boise Art Museum

2006    The Apollo Prophecies, Aperture Press

2005    City of Salt, Aperture Press

2002    Scotlandfuturebog, Aperture Press 

 

 

DOCUMENTARIES

2006    UC Boulder Dept of Fine Arts for Public Access TV

2005     “Apollo Prophecies,” Voom! HDTV 

2003    Boston Arts WGBH TV and Art Close Up PBS TV

 

LECTURES

 

University of Akron

Amherst College

ACP Keynote address, SCAD atlanta

Aperture Foundation

University of the Arts, Philadelphia

Bard College

Brenau University

Brown University

Buffalo State College

College of Saint Rose, Albany

University of Colorado, Boulder

The Center for Book Arts, NYC

Columbia College, Chicago

East Carolina State University, Greenville

Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University

Florence Griswold Museum

Hammer Museum, Los Angeles

Indiana State University, Terra Haute

Miami University, Ohio

Millbrook School

Montclair State University

University of Nevada, Reno

The New School, NYC

New York University

University of North Carolina, Charlotte

Ohio University, Athens

Philips Andover Academy

Photographic Resource Center, Boston University

Princeton University

Queensland Festival of Photography, Brisbane

Rochester Institute of Technology

Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology

San Francisco Art Institute

Savannah College of Art and Design

Southern Utah University

SPE keynote address, Baltimore Convention Center

SUNY Albany

SUNY Cortland

SUNY New Paltz

SUNY Plattsburgh

University of Tennessee, Chattanooga

School of Visual Arts

Untitled Art Space, Oklahoma City

University of Washington, Seattle

Washington University in St. Louis

Williams College

 

 

GRANTS & AWARDS

2015Pollack Krasner Foundation Grant, New York, NY

2009    Leopold Godowsky Award, Photographic Resource Center, Boston, Ma.

2008    AICA Best Exhibition Award, Boston, Ma

2007    Green Leaf Award, Nobel Peace Center, Oslo, Norway

2006    NASA commission 

2003    Best Photography Book of 2002 for “Scotlandfuturebog,” New York Book Show

2002Artists in Residence, Princeton Atelier, Princeton University

2001     Djerassi Foundation Residency, Woodside, California        

2000     Artists in Residence, Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts

1995     Provincetown Arts Council Grant

1994     Fine Arts Work Center Fellowship, Provincetown, Massachusetts

1987    New Jersey State Council for the Arts Grant

        

COLLECTIONS

Brooklyn Museum of Art

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago

Boston Public Library

Beinecke Library, Yale University

Houston Museum of Fine Arts

Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Ma.

Cape Cod Museum of Art

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Fogg Museum of Art, Boston

National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC

DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park

University of Colorado Museum of Art

Boise Museum of Art

Bergen County Museum of Arts and Sciences, Paramus NJ

Washington Convention Center

Indiana State University

Miller, Anderson, and Sherrard Corporate HQ, Philadelphia

International Finance Corporation

Wellington Management Corporation

Fidelity Corporation 

World Bank Corporation

Estee Lauder Corporation

Microsoft Corporation

Time Magazine

Aperture Magazine

The Prudential Corporation 

Dow Jones 

LaSalle Mortgage Corporation 

Buhl Collection

DOCUMENTARIES

2006            UC Boulder Dept of Fine Arts for Public Access TV

2005             “Apollo Prophecies,” Voom! HDTV

2003            Boston Arts WGBH TV and Art Close Up PBS TV

LECTURES

University of Akron

Amherst College

Aperture Foundation

University of the Arts, Philadelphia

Brown University

University of Colorado, Boulder

The Center for Book Arts, NYC

Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University

Hammer Museum, Los Angeles

Miami University, Ohio

Montclair State University

University of Nevada, Reno

The New School, NYC

New York University

Ohio University, Athens

Philips Andover Academy

Photographic Resource Center, Boston University

Princeton University

Rochester Institute of Technology

San Francisco Art Institute

Savannah College of Art and Design

Southern Utah University

SUNY Cortland

SUNY New Paltz

University of Tennessee, Chattanooga

School of Visual Arts

Untitled Art Space, Oklahoma City

University of Washington, Seattle

Williams College

COLLECTIONS

Brooklyn Museum of Art

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago

Boston Public Library

Beinecke Library, Yale University

Houston Museum of Fine Arts

Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Ma.

Cape Cod Museum of Art

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Fogg Museum of Art, Boston

National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC

DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park

University of Colorado Museum of Art

Hunter Art Museum, Chattanooga Tennessee

Bergen County Museum of Arts and Sciences, Paramus NJ

Washington Convention Center

Miller, Anderson, and Sherrard Corporate HQ, Philadelphia

International Finance Corporation

Wellington Management Corporation

Fidelity Corporation

World Bank Corporation

Estee Lauder Corporation

Microsoft Corporation

Time Magazine

Aperture Magazine

The Prudential Corporation

Dow Jones

LaSalle Mortgage Corporation

Buhl Collection

 

Transient

The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Kahn & Selesnick

Sarah Falkner

September 2010

Kahn & Selesnick's latest body of work, Adrift on the Hourglass Sea, set in a Martian landscape in part documented by NASA rovers, has just launched its premiere exhibition at Boston gallery Carroll and Sons; the project will continue to evolve over 2011 with viewings planned for New York, Chicago, Brussels and beyond.

Kahn & Selesnick's multimedia narrative projects frequently depict societies in deep crisis and transition, with recent settings being a quasi-Weimar Germany (Eisbergfreistadt) and a Middle Eastern region ablaze with colonial exploitation and violence (City of Salt).  City of Salt's concerns with culture clashes and imagery of burning towers were intuited shortly before the events in New York City of 9/11/01 and Eisbergfreistadt's denizens scrambling to maintain a bourgeois

facade amidst currency crises and environmental disasters were photographed a year before the American real estate bubble began to burst.  Just a week before "Adrift" opened in Boston, in an

interesting--and, in light of previous prescient Kahn & Selesnick work, perhaps troubling--synchronicity, Stephen Hawking made the following comments to the website Big Think, which were secondarily reported in the larger press to some ballyhoo:

"I believe that the long-term future of the human race must be in

space. It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on planet Earth

in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand, or million.

The human race shouldn't have all its eggs in one basket, or on one

planet. Let's hope we can avoid dropping the basket until we have

spread the load... Our only chance of long term survival, is not to

remain inward looking on planet Earth, but to spread out into space.

We have made remarkable progress in the last hundred years. But if we

want to continue beyond the next hundred years, our future is in

space. That is why I'm in favor of manned, or should I say "personed,"

space flight."

Hawking's self-correction in language regarding the gendering of space exploration is also firmly in sympathy with Kahn & Selesnick's choice to populate the "Adrift" project solely with two women.  We do not learn their names nor how and when they came to Mars, but we observe their wanderings in the landscape which they make navigable and habitable with an amalgam of high-tech components retrofitted to found artifacts and monuments that appear to be the remnants of a long-gone civilization.  They seem to be outside of linear time--perhaps having

escaped an Earth catastrophe and landing on Mars to find that its own history includes an apocalypse; or perhaps having fled the red planet at the height of the Martian disaster only to return later in time and find their former home's traces in the large stone acoustic devices

that stand sentinel over bleak and infertile valleys, very like the Moai of Rapa Nui.

Kahn & Selesnick frequently invoke cyclical notions of time--The Apollo Prophecies is a mobius strip of a narrative with American astronauts landing on the moon to find that Edwardian explorers have beat them to planting the flag of their homeland empire, and Scotlandfuturebog invoked an ambivalently pre- or - post-industrial society barely able to keep their sheepskin-bedecked asses dry above the muck but at times able to navigate and augur with mystical and mechanical devices.  With Adrift on the Hourglass Sea,  Kahn & Selesnick once again deploy circularity and ambiguity in the service of disarming our contemporary delusions of linear progress, in the interest of dismantling our hubris.

The “Adrift” project contains large-scale panoramic photographs; varying-scale Martian artifacts including cast concrete, lead and tin boats, totemic figures and crystallized growths; and paintings and small-scale photographs.  The photographs employ actual photo-mosaics of Mars taken by the NASA space rovers Spirit and Opportunity; desert landscapes in Nevada and Utah photographed by the artists; and WWI-era British Army structures photographed for Kahn & Selesnick by the artist Cathy Ward.

I have known Kahn & Selesnick since 2000, and like many of their friends, have lent assistance to several of their projects on various levels. The artists and I recently had a conversation:

SF:  What I find most compelling about your work over the years is its ability to create dreamlike realities which follow an internal logic that unpredictably mirrors, interrogates and disembowels different components of what we might call most correctly, dominator-culture consensus reality.  Each of your projects uses multiple media to create a specific node in the space-time continuum that seamlessly weaves together "genuine" and "authentic" objects,

photographic records and texts, along with your own inventions and detournements. I have witnessed many times over the years people begging you to "explain it" to them better, or parse out for them what is "real" and what "isn't" in a project, whilst you both hedge and dart as best you can.  It seems to me that you want your audience to stop trying to cling to a clever but brittle mental-level cataloging of what is familiar and "true" and official institutionally-sponsored knowledge, and just open up to directly experience the expansiveness of the world that's there before them. It seems to me a mystical approach, very like what my own favorite teachers and guides have

encouraged in us whenever on the brink of nonordinary reality which is after all not separate but inextricably embraided with ordinary reality--let go for a moment of concerning yourself with what you do and don't recognize and just let it wash over you awhile.  It's not an anti-intellectual approach, but a call to skillfully move at will

between realms, senses, and capacities of perception.  At any rate, while Adrift on the Hourglass Sea is the name of your newest project, it also is to my mind a succinct description of the experience you seem to want to encourage for your viewers: cut the power, sever the docklines, and throw the clocks overboard!

I also enjoy that "The Hourglass Sea" was an early name for what is now known as Syrtis Major--as I understand it, it was the very first albedo feature ever viewed from Earth; in other words, the first documented change in contrast in light or dark and thereby an implied surface feature, visible on another planet. It was thought to be a sea or plain from its first documented sighting and mapping in 1659 until fairly recently, when the Mars Global Surveyor indicated that it actually seems to be a volcano; so, not water, but fire, not concave but

convex. This topsy-turvy self-contradicting quality to what we collectively know and think we know at any point in time, with ruptures and reversals occurring quite regularly in cycles, is something that you seem to enjoy working with...

K/S:  well, we find it very interesting that you mention throwing the clocks overboard - one of our first collaborative pieces at university (done with our friend Jon Taylor of Ryukyu Underground) involved dressing up in lederhosen and whiteface as clock bell strikers, marching into a room like automatons run amok, grabbing two clocks off the wall and hurling them out the window! The piece was called 'behold the human clock'.

Nicholas’ great-grandfather Lieberman had a clock and watch store in the narrow streets of the east end of London and held two patents for specialized alarm clock mechanisms; as a young man Nicholas was employed for a time transporting timepieces to be repaired at the workshop down an alley in  "Bleeding Heart's Yard."

For us the question about what's real and what isn't is kind of a red herring, or maybe better yet, a MacGuffin. For instance, the iceberg in Eisbergfreistadt was most certainly a MacGuffin, something to catch the viewers’ attention and lead them towards the questions the project is asking, which as you quite rightly point out are generally to do with the non-linearity of time, and the nature of consensual reality or context. Our feeling is that the mind is a machine for creating and upholding context, and will generally do anything to uphold that facade, and the MacGuffin is the wrench in the works.

In this regard your discerning that we have an ambivalent relationship with intellectuality in regards to our work interests us. We have always seen the intellectual as a master context-builder, a constructer of cathedrals of the mind, whether it be in fields of criticism, science, philosophy, etc. one can certainly admire the beauty of these edifices, but really the clocks can go overboard at any moment. Historically this was the role of the fool, which is why we think we are so drawn to absurdism in our work. The sublime functions in much the same way, and so also tends to be a running theme for us.

But to return to clocks, we were also struck that you should mention Stephen Hawking. He points out that mathematically time can be treated as a spatial dimension, and that certain problems relating to time and quantum mechanics can be resolved by applying imaginary numbers to these dimensions to create imaginary time. He is quick to point out that these are not merely mathematical models:

"It turns out that a mathematical model involving imaginary time predicts not only effects we have already observed but also effects we have not been able to measure yet nevertheless believe in for other reasons. So what is real and what is imaginary? Is the distinction just in our minds?"

If we are talking about the space-time continuum, we think it is also interesting to leave the clocks behind and consider the spatial dimension. When we look back at the projects we've worked on, a very common theme is that they are set in times and places where contexts have generally been either destroyed or rebuilt or re-aligned. We think the traditional landscape for this contextual re-alignment has been the desert wilderness, whether one is talking about Moses' conversation with the burning bush, or the Apollo missions to the moon. This is where the sublime comes in - a key moment for us in the development of this project was a visit to the Tate Britain where we saw an exhibition called Art and the Sublime. The exhibition was a survey of apocalyptic 18th and 19th century British landscape painting relating to Edmund Burke's notion that "terror is in all cases whatsoever, either more openly or latently, the ruling principle of the sublime". A particular painting that struck us was The Poison Tree on the Island of Java  by Francis Danby - the scene is distinctly Martian, and quite unsettling enough in and of itself, but a closer look reveals a dead body and numerous skeletons lying in the dark areas of the foreground. The painting and the quote, taken together seemed the perfect metaphorical doorway into the project for us. In fact we even ended up using some of the actual volcanoes of Java as recurring background elements in our constructed Martian landscapes.

Here's Schopenhauer’s categorization of sublime feelings (very German!):

    * Feeling of Beauty – Light is reflected off a flower. (Pleasure from a mere perception of an object that cannot hurt observer).

    * Weakest Feeling of Sublime – Light reflected off stones. (Pleasure from beholding objects that pose no threat, yet themselves are devoid of life).

    * Weaker Feeling of Sublime – Endless desert with no movement. (Pleasure from seeing objects that could not sustain the life of the observer).

    * Sublime – Turbulent Nature. (Pleasure from perceiving objects that threaten to hurt or destroy observer).

    * Full Feeling of Sublime – Overpowering turbulent Nature. (Pleasure from beholding very violent, destructive objects).

    * Fullest Feeling of Sublime – Immensity of Universe's extent or duration. (Pleasure from knowledge of observer's nothingness and oneness with Nature).

In terms of cycles, we think in this project we became interested in exploring what might be referred to as 'geological time' - we've seen this in certain films, such as “2001” where Kubrick cuts from caveman days right to the future, skipping recorded human history entirely! So in "the Hourglass Sea" we set ourselves free to let the project somehow encompass millennia, right back or forward to a time when Mars had surface water. To do this we had to let go of many of our own linear, narrative notions, which we think is a good thing for us.

SF:  Somehow I am not too surprised that I mentioned the clocks in this conversation, since in my experience, the entity Kahn & Selesnick, perhaps with all its time-machine experiments, seems to have increased the probability of synchronicity within its energetic field to a rate above that which the average American or Brit enjoys. (In fact, the reader may be interested to know that I saw your work and learned of your existence for the first time when a book suddenly and without provocation fell off a shelf in front of me as I was going about my business looking for something else--an event which has occurred numerous times in my life and which, I have come to learn, signals something funny is about to go on with time and space--and so I took notice when Fence magazine with a two-headed Richard on the cover suddenly lunged at me.  Then a week or so later, through nonordinary means I won’t go into here, I met you both and, of course thanks to one of you more than the other, an irrevocable impact on my life followed.)

I suspect it is your long-term collaboration that facilitates an openness to synchronicities most of all—as well as to a general fluidity with space and time and all the rest.  Experiencing the sublime is an overwhelm-ment, a transgression of personal boundaries, a relinquishing of personal control, a losing of self, and a transcendent absorption into something bigger than yourself and the sum of all the parts—as is collaboration. So, I am interested in all that, and some of the other side-effects and deliberately-courted functions of your fundamentally collaborative nature. 

Not only is Kahn & Selesnick a multiplicity where usually we find a lone agent--your dialectic,  yin-yang,  two-headed beast also participates in all sorts of other micro- and macro-collaborations with other people. Having myself been a participant from time to time, and for comparison having also collaborated frequently with other individuals for various purposes, I find it interesting that with K/S oftentimes a moment arises in which face-value verbal communication is not the primary mode the collaboration is using to move forward and through the project—I have experienced this most frequently with other collaborations when the usual sublime-invokers ritual, meditation, danger, drugs, or live music (which is, after all, a medicine) are somehow involved, whereas none of those were present in my collaborations with you.  I have also observed that, as it is for many artists, there are times when what you do under the aegis of art-making seems your primary spiritual or mystical practice; as far as I know neither of you has any other formal personal practice along those lines.

So I’m interested in all these things in relationship to your collaboration as Kahn & Selesnick and also within the “Adrift” project how the collaboration between the women takes place: twinned beings inventing and deconstructing the human-made, amidst bleak and beautiful, wonderful and frightening landscapes that easily give rise to visions and different states of being. It seems to me that in the “Adrift” project you are among all the other things that you accomplish, also perhaps presenting a crystallized depiction of Kahn & Selesnick’s process. 

K/S:  Let’s return to the dividing cell from which we all come and to which this project comes back to again and again. The hourglass, a time telling device, is inverted endlessly in cycles—and laid on its side, is the symbol for infinity. One reading of our dreams is that Mars may be Earth’s twin, whose past is our present, and whose present is our horror of our future. Or turn that upside down, or on its side. Endlessly, adrift, the hourglass sea.

One finds the double mind again in the shape of the "Lithops plant" or "Living Stones" as they are commonly called, whose earthly habitat is the harsh deserts of southern Africa, and which appear in the project being cultivated in the decaying oxygen farms, and whose larger bifurcated structure seems to echo exactly the stages of cellular mitosis. Elsewhere in the photographs and sculptures one finds the clustering of spheres, each burbling out of another, concretized into the stone barques that move at geologic pace across the former seas of Mars in great  podlike armadas, their cargo the two-faced hermaphroditic Janus, god of gates, portals, beginnings and endings, whose surface explodes like a bacterial colony of further spheres. Pods split open from giant squidlike rockets, seeding Mars with boitrydal clusters of hematite, their rough rust red nearly-perfectly- spherical forms that the twin robotic emissaries from our civilization—Spirit and Opportunity--have repeatedly found littered across the planet. NASA engineers dubbed these forms " blueberries," and the same blueberries litter the deserts of southern Utah, repeating the dividing cell motif. The two women seen on Mars collaborate on the not-yet-possible-on-Earth, a child. Are they divine, crystallizing from virgin soil the first human born on another planet? Or using techniques of advanced Tibetan Buddhist meditation in their mountain top cell, alone in the horror of the vacuum, using intention to create their white-swaddled baby much as Alexandra David Neal observed monks creating human thought-form companions from scratch in Magic and Mystery in Tibet.

The cave, on Mars, we decided is central to life: Bellona’s womb, the uterus of the Roman god Mars’ fierce female companion. If Earth is shattered by war—the domain of the god Mars--will we send a lifemaker, a nurturer, to make another go at it, and perhaps this time we won’t destroy the planet? In the moist caves whose phalli-studded flanks gnash and chew the subsurface of the volcanic planet, the silver-suited messengers of all our hopes discover tin and lead statuettes, crudely formed yet prescient of their own arrival, quicksilver gods on a planet drained of water, time and life. Not one month after we photographed our first Martian cave scene did a 7th grade science class in Cottonwood, California discover a cave on Mars, which NASA had previously overlooked.

The deeper we carve our runnels into the red planet, forming canals upon Martian surfaces that mirror our inner processes, the more connected we feel to the rest of this planet Earth and its life, the more precious each drop of water seems. The Morphic Resonances that Rupert Sheldrake describes to explain the seeming-eccentricities of time and space are at the root of whatever mystical practices feed our joint vision of planetary birth and collapse. We have no answers here, under the silver suits we are naked and helpless, but through some unseen forces, at one with everything and everyone. The planets whose positions at our births seem to imprint our fortunes into our cells by means of some magic yet to be described by our science seem to align us in a clockwork patterning that grinds against our perhaps-illusory individual free will, whilst connecting us across time and space.

***


Transient

Kahn and Selesnick:  Eisbergfreistadt and Other Works

By Jennifer Calkins

He regards it as his task to brush history against the grain.[1]

There is nothing unrealistic to any of this.[2]

The work of the duo Kahn and Selesnick, Richard Selesnick and Nicholas Kahn, dwells in the sweet space of interstices, freely trafficking in what Walter Benjamin calls “intervals of reflection.” [3]  In their work, history is found and created, and narrative is generated and left to flower in the viewer’s own mind.  Enter into any one installation and you feel a sense of vertiginous relocation.  You are thrust into that which is deeply familiar but entirely new and strange; spare but full; completely Romantic and totally anti-Romantic; fully conceptual but ultimately mystical.  Their work is a sort of para-historical marriage to the fantastic and uncanny.   It is also technically fine and distinctly beautiful. 

Eisbergfreistadt

The (hi)story

four moons would illuminate the night sky; ice would be removed from the polar cap; saltwater from the sea would no longer taste salty; and wild beasts would enter[4]

Iceberg Free State, I’ve Found It At Last![5]

On 17 November, 1923 an iceberg drifted from the Baltic Sea and ran aground in Lübeck, Germany. The local burghers transformed the iceberg into an offshore banking haven by declaring it a free state and printing up Eisbergfreistadt notgeld.[6] While the idea of habitable “land” directly offshore appealed to those of a capitalist inclination, the physical structure of the iceberg was a catalyst to artists involved in the Crystal Chain, particularly Wenzel Hablik[7].

In Kahn and Selesnick’s installation the viewer is invited to observe the iceberg in photographs, paintings, on notgeld, postcards, stamps and playing cards. One striking black-and-white photograph shows Lübeck, its spires unable to compete with the sheer enormity and grace of the seemingly silent iceberg resting in the background.  Balanced against this apparent realism in the installation is a fanciful architectural model of the iceberg-architectural form created out of marzipan.

There is a consistent tension in Kahn and Selesnick’s Eisbergfreistadt.   The black and white photographs of people weathering Lübeck’s hyperinflation (by, for example, burning nogeld) are juxtaposed with utopian visions of iceberg structure and architecture. The beauty of the notgeld is contrasted both with the drabness of the well-used wheelbarrow in which they ride and their apparent lack of worth as shown in the black and white photographs.   The elegance and novelty of a notgeld coat and dress is contrasted by the fact that to wear currency may be fashionable but it is neither a warm nor lasting mode of dress.  Photographs of single pilot dirigibles papered with notgeld appear beautiful and liberating but also precariously balanced—too much force of wind would destroy the notgeld balloon, with unpleasant consequences.

In the show, Kahn and Selesnick document the masked ball planned to celebrate the newly created Eisbergfreistadt bank.  The favored costumes for the ball were polar animals although Hablik and his contingent dressed as rats and pigs.  Unfortunately, the ball proved too much for the iceberg, which split in two under the weight of all the revelers.  Lübeck’s industrial zone was damaged by the half of the berg that collapsed. The Norwegian current captured the other half and swept it, and those marooned upon it, north towards the Arctic Circle. As in much of Kahn and Selesnick’s other works, some iceberg castaways appear to have reverted to postapocalyptic survival mode.  For example, one image shows a naked man in the foreground, with an animal mask (presumably worn for the ball) pushed back on his head, as he attempts to lure a stout off a rock.  In the background another nude person appears to be digging in the earth—for food, perhaps?  The strangeness of the post-iceberg-breakup photographs becomes a physical embodiment of a postapocalyptic state that logically might arise out of the anxiety and artistic energy, and the uncanniness of the iceberg and the economic and political fluctuations of Germany itself.

Would that the world were still a child–
and could tell me of its very first breath.[8]

Although those in Lübeck Germany at the time of the iceberg felt precariously balanced on the edge of an economic and political apocalypse, the true firestorm started 10 years later, with the takeover of Germany by the Nazi party.  In 1942, Lübeck was the first town in Germany to be firebombed by the Allies.  A small photograph of Lübeck following the firebombing rests in the show upon a desk covered with other ephemera, including the postcards celebrating Eisbergfreistadt.

Germany, 1923

This, then, is all.  It’s not enough, I know.

At least I’m still alive, as you may see.

I’m like the man who took a brick to show

How beautiful his house used to be.[9]

Except for the photographic allusion to Lübeck’s 1942 firebombing, Kahn and Selesnick’s Eisbergfreistadt takes place in the year 1923.  Explicitly, the work addresses the economic and political instability of that year as well as human-induced climate change. The work implicitly refers to events that arguably paved the way for the Nazi takeover of Germany 1933.  Because of the shadow WWII casts, it is impossible to view Germany during the early twentieth century without the sense the reflection of the absolute horror of the Holocaust and the destruction by firebombing of cities like Lübeck and Dresden.  Kahn and Selesnick know this and play with the tension caused by our desire to engage the show outside of the shadow of the Nazis and our present sense of economic instability and political extremism.

The events of 1923 included the occupation by Belgian and French troops of the Ruhr in the Rhineland, peaking hyperinflation and extensive production of emergency money (notgeld), and political instability due to the actions of extremist movements, all exacerbated by the sense that the Weimer government was ineffective.  The occupation, a Treaty of Versailles sanctioned response to German defaults on coal, and the poor economy led to protests across the country.  The government responded by declaring a state of emergency in September.  This failed to quell the unrest and in October, a separatist group declared a republic in Rhineland that was recognized by France. Then, on November 8-9 Adolf Hitler led the Nazi party in an attempted coup (the Hitlerputsch), for which he was imprisoned.  The end of 1923 actions that appeared to stabilize the country, including the replacement of the German Chancellor, an economic treaty with the United States and the issuing of the Rentenmark.   However, in 1933 Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor and consolidated his power in response to the Reichstag burning.  The Nazi’s proceeded to extinguish the remarkable artistic energy that had been ignited post WWI.

Climate change—a warm world and a cold berg

I imagined us being locked in there by accident and that, holding each other tight, we would freeze to death[10]

But when winter comes,
where will I find
the flowers, the sunshine,
the shadows of the earth?[11]

The iceberg that became Eisbergfreistadt was released from the polar ice in 1923 because of arctic warming.  This localized climate trend occurred from the 1920’s to the 1940’s, decades also notable for the extremity of both local and global political events. Documentation of the climate alteration and the shift in biological distribution at the time has proven useful to scientists attempting to predict patterns of the change likely result from the current anthropogenically induced global climate change[12].

Kahn and Selesnick’s imposition of para-history upon this early warming event is illuminating.  The piece juxtaposes images of the arctic—that of ice and cold and polar animals—with the economic and industrial forces contributing to its demise. The deck of cards, created for Eisbergfreistadt, includes a suite dedicated to the evolving smokestack.  The image of people dressed for the cold exploring, playing cards, and posing on an iceberg displaced by warming are scenes that traffic in unease.  A celebrating woman posing with an ice sculpture of a bird contrasts with a series of thirteen small photographs of seabirds—most of which are dead.  Repeatedly, images of the poster child candidate for climate-change-caused extinction, the polar bear, are shown—in the background on the ice as a one-manned dirigible floats by, as a bear-skin providing a warm suit for a man in a canoe, on notgeld, as marzipan delights in a white china serving dish embellished with dark blue and gold, and as a hung corpse—brought on board ship for the cook to prepare a meal[13]

Hyperinflation and economic instability

The unemployed were hungry.  The employed

Are hungry now.[14]

THE HOUSE PAINTER SPEAKS OF

GREAT TIMES TO COME[15]

When currency becomes worthless for trade people use it for something worthwhile—they burn it or use it to make coats, dresses and Zepplins (or perhaps even consume it—as indicated by a photograph of a man defecating notgeld).  At least this is what, according to the images in Eisbergfreistadt, the residents of Lübeck living in the shadow of the iceberg do. Germany in the years 1919-1923 experienced one of the worst episodes of hyperinflation in economic history.  As the value of the mark declined, local burgs started printing up emergency paper money (notgeld).  The hyperinflation peaked in late 1923 when the value of the German Papiermark sank to 4.2X1012 mark per U. S. dollar.  At this time, Germany printed a banknote with a face value of 100 trillion marks. Workers carted wheelbarrows or suitcases full of banknotes home twice a day to cover their salary.  Common staples required huge quantities of paper currency: on November 15, 1923, for example, two days before the iceberg struck, a loaf of bread cost 80 billion mark—a wheelbarrow-full at the very least. 

Kahn and Selesnick’s Eisberfreistadt embodies the hyperinflationary insanity by balancing three loaves against a pile of physically oversized notgeld.  In the installation, one is tempted to touch the wheelbarrow full of notgeld that could have driven off a photograph of a man bargaining for an egg.  There are black and white photographs of a cart of notgeld pulled by a dog, notgeld fluttering out of a box at the harbor, notgeld being burned and notgeld covered Zeppelins. The wind through the gallery door makes the notgeld on the coat and dress flutter, as though ghosts of 1923 were passing through.

The notgeld in the show come from a variety of locales including Freital, Emmendingen, Bielfeld and Itzehoe (the latter designed by Hablik) some of which are stamped Eisbergfreistadt.  There are also notgeld images specifically created in celebration of the Eisbergfreistadt iceberg. Kahn and Selesnick exploit the transition of notgeld from worthless currency to valuable collectible commodity post-hyperinflation through the production of a “giganticschnotgeld,” a Hablik/Hablik-inspired painting of the iceberg, 2.5 by 4 feet. They also include a photograph of Hablik himself apparently trying to spend this 500 billionen mark in a bar on a train.

Art and architecture in Eisbergfreistadt

Your ideas should be as irresponsibly free as a bird....Let us create a fresh atmosphere, a pure aura of spirit, wit, and joy[16]

Architecture that lets the sunlight and the light of the moon and stars into our rooms not merely through a few windows, but simultaneously through the greatest possible number of walls that are made entirely of glass[17]

Kahn and Selesnick’s Eisbergfreistadt celebrates the sense of artistic and architectural possibility that emerged in Germany (and many other parts of the world) after WWI.   While memories of war, and the severe economic and political stability engendered a sense of anxiety and despair, the sense of total destruction of the old also fostered, in the more revolutionarily inclined, the feeling of energy and excitement—anything was possible, even utopia. The Crystal (or Glass) Chain was one short-lived movement to emerge at this time.  This group, including Hablik was enamored with the organic nature and randomness of crystal formation, and saw in these forms the inspiration for a new form of architecture.   Crystals and glass also allow for the inclusion of air and light into the interior of an architectural construct in a way that much architecture to that point did not.

The limitless architectural imagination of the Crystal Chain is illustrated in Eisbergfreistadt by nogeld with images of different visions of iceberg architecture from towers with walls of flat planes, to honeycomb dwellings with arched entryways into the ice to pointed structures that look like icicles exploding outward from the sea.  The piece also includes an architectural model of icebergian possibilities formed out of marzipan. 

While many of the images appear inspired by German Expressionism, in this piece as in all of Kahn and Selesnick’s work, one senses echoes of Bosch and Bruegel the Elder.  In Eisbergfreistadt, two half moon paintings of towers reaching the sky, one an organic spiral surrounded by greenery and water and the other a flat planed inorganic series of block surrounded by desolation and smokestacks, could have been cut from the background of Bruegel the Elder’s The Temptation of Saint Anthony.  One is an utopia, the other a tower of Babel. 

Birds

Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds.[18]

The raven taught my parents

what to do with me[19]

Birds inhabit the photographs of Eisbergfreistadt, song birds, sea birds, birds as the fundamental image in a suite of the deck of cards and, in a particularly striking photograph, rooks covering and entering into the coat of a person dressed for the ball as the King of Birds.  Upon seeing these avian images, one gets the sense they inhabit a world adjacent to that of the inhabitants of Lübeck—they are unlinked geographically and reflect on both the environmental degradation and the desire of artists such as Hablik for a sort of limitless aesthetic freedom.  The birds are joined in the show by avian notgeld—currency folded as origami to become birds.  These are hung from the ceiling in the installation and appear in several photographs—the folding itself apparently magically conferring flight (as opposed to blowing away in the wind as unfolded notgeld do in one photograph). In flight, the notgeld becomes an object of desire in the way of birds, with people vainly attempting to capture them, by hand or by bow.  They are not captured, and, in one small black and white photograph, a single avian notgeld flies in the air above the rubble of Lübeck; in the desolation it appears as the lone survivor of the firebombing.

Search and Rescue

Which quadrant of the sky?  Which latitude?...

What is the moon to us and what do stars mean?[20]

He would like to pause for a moment so fair, to awaken the dead and to piece together what has been smashed.[21]

The collapse of the Eisbergfreistadt iceberg is a reflection of the extreme and rapid nature of political, social, economic and artistic change occurring in interwar Germany. It also highlights the fact that climatic events, including current global warming, are often apparently stochastic, unresponsive and devastating.  While one castaway from the iceberg’s destruction appears dressed for a business meeting, floating on a piece of ice surrounded by seals, others seem to have given over to a post-apocalyptic sense of expansiveness—they play music on antlers or hold owls in the air.  Many of Kahn and Selesnick’s Eisbergfreistadt panoramas show the search and rescue missions initiated in order to find these castaways (including Hablik).  The vehicles used for the missions were boats in icy waters, airplanes and dirigibles. Search and rescue teams dressed in furs comb the lands north of Lübeck—when teams find survivors it is often not clear in the photograph whether they are dead or alive. The dirigibles and airplanes firmly root the piece in the World War I and II, and interwar era of the last century. However, as Zeppelins are denizens of many dystopian stories, their inclusion allows the work to detach itself from the past and become something, quite possibly, of the future. 

There is an air of both apocalypse and possibility in all of the work of Kahn and Selesnick.  However, perhaps more than any of their other works, Eisbergfreistadt overtly traffics in history, but not the history that is progress, rather a lost history, obscured by the smoke.  In images on the iceberg, in the panoramas of exploration and rescues we taste the future or an alternate reality.  However, in the black and white images, especially of people in Lübeck dealing with the immediacy of the economic crisis, Kahn and Selesnick awaken the dead.  They are brought back out of activities in which they were, presumably, frozen in time.  We, in looking at the photos and attempting to create narratives, use their images to tell ourselves the stories they can no longer express. The fact that the images are actually of the currently living, dressed in the expressions, clothing, paraphernalia and activities of the dead, only makes their message more compelling. 

Across the Works of Kahn and Selesnick

Kahn and Selesnick see the future. 

Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,

And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,

Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,

Which I am forbidden to see.  I do not find

The Hanged Man.  Fear death by water.[22]

But the demons have come alive, too, and they are not groggy.[23]

Kahn and Selesnick have a habit of prophecy.  In early 2001, they started work on The City of Salt, conceived as a exploration of the interface between Western Judeo-Christian societies and cultures and those of the Muslim Middle East and Northern Africa and influenced by the stories of Sufis.  In September of that same year, Al Qaeda caused airplanes to crash into New York’s twin towers, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  

Eisbergfreistadt is a similarly prophetic piece, foretelling at its inception in 2007 the global economic crisis that started in autumn of the following year. Although the current extent of global inflation in no way approaches that of Germany 1923, there is a sense of both anxiety and possibility that mirrors what occurred in Weimer Germany.

It is not surprising, then, that Kahn and Selesnick, as soothsayers, include a deck of cards in Eisbergfreistadt.  Though the cards themselves were ostensibly created to celebrate the bank, and were, as evidenced by the photographs, often used in games, they serve also as a tool of prophecy.  Like the rest of the installation, this prophecy itself both mirrors history and reflects upon the possible future.  The suites, rather than being hearts, spades, clubs and diamonds, or swords, staves, cups and coins are smoking factories, birds, ice and thorny plants.   One might deal the cards and tell a story of the past, of the future or of both simultaneously.

Kahn and Selesnick break with time and engage the historical uncanny 

Open spaces, narrow scrapings,

near catastrophes we’re facing[24]

When were we not dying?[25]

Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick have been collaborating since the early 1980’s to produce works of visual meta-narrative.  Their initial pieces post-graduation involved painted portraits on plaster, and ritual architecture housing wax, bread and honey sculptures.  They returned to photography in 1996 and in the late 1990’s produced a series of panoramic photographs, a technique for which they are now known, for Flight and Wartime and The Circular River; both photonovellas centered around The Royal Excavation Corps (REC). Although the Artefacts (sic) of the REC were displayed in earlier installations, the actual sepia-toned-stained-collaged-by-hand images of Peter Hesselbach’s work developing gliders were their first examples of photographic panoramas.

Accompanying their panoramic photographs the duo also produces paintings and mixed media pieces and incorporates various forms of found objects—photographs, postcards and other ephemera.  Although the works are photonovellas, when installed, the linear temporality to which a novel reader is often constrained vanishes—the narratives are presented in whatever order the viewer chooses to interact with them.  One exception is the 10’ high by 50’ long panorama of The Apollo Prophecies that is a linear narrative in photoform.   In books, and to some extent online, the pieces become more constrained by considerations of ordering.  Accompanying the works in these forms are additional textual material, including narratives by Ben Marcus for Scotlandfuturebog, and Sarah Falkner and Erez Lieberman for The City of Salt.

Within the work of Kahn and Selesnick are discovered, invented and forgotten histories transposed with a sense of the postapolcalyptic world; the former most explicitly explored in Eisbergfreistadt, Flight and Wartime and The Circular River and the latter in Scotlandfuturebog.  Even the titles of objects and photographs Scotlandfuturebog display a post-apocalyptic sense similar to modes of speech created by Russell Hobans for Riddley Scott and David Mitchell for Cloud Atlas.  Repeated motifs across the works reinforce these themes and tie the entire body of work together. 

One such motif is the human made nonhuman, made part animal or plant.  In Eisbergfreistadt and Scotlandfuturebog people are dressed up as animals while in The Green Man, men become plants.  An extension of the animal form is the repeated use of masks with beaks that mirror masks worn by plague doctors.  While the beak masks suggests premodern medicine and the paintings of Bruegel, they also embody our human desire to be birds and mesh with Kahn and Selesnick’s repeated use of imagery related to flight—within the earth’s atmosphere in Flight and Wartime and Eisbergfreistadt and in space in The Apollo Prophecies.  Nonhuman animals other than birds themselves make appearances, for example in Eisbergfreistadt (polar bears, a dog, stouts and seals) and The Apollo Prophecies (a helmeted and uniformed elephant and baboon), although, to some extent, the panoramas seem strangely devoid creatures other than humans and birds;  this reinforces the viewer’s sense of unease.  The ghosts of those who fought in WWI and WWII re-occur across the works in the form of explicit narrative components in Flight and Wartime, The Circular River and Eisbergfreistadt and implicit references via the appearance of uniforms and helmets from this era in The City of Salt. Shot through is a sense of release from the constraints of the Enlightenment in the echos of premodern and postmodern imagery.

The work incorporates the writings of explorers and visionaries, the novels of W. G. Sebald as well as 19th century panoramas, fictional narrative photography by artists from Henry Peach Robinson to Eleanor Antin and documentary photography (who also, at times, trafficked in fiction) by artists such as Matthew Brady and Edward Curtis.  Perhaps one of the most intriguing and consistent influences is the German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich.   He is mentioned in the text of Flight and Wartime and his painting Chalk Cliffs on Rugen appears in the background of a photograph of an interior in Lübeck where notgeld are being burned.  Images in panoramas in The City of Salt and Eisbergfreistadt, The Apollo Prophecies and Scotlandfuturebog distinctly echo Friedrich works such as Wanderer Above the Mist, The Sea of Ice, Monk by the Sea and Grosse Gehenge near Dresden. 

Then welcome, silent world of shadows![26]

Kahn and Selesnick’s allusion to the artists Caspar David Friedrich and Wenzel Hablik illustrates one aspect of their work that differentiates it from much narrative photography—the sense of the sacred. From the vegetative men in The Green Man to the images of prostration in Scotlandfuturebog and The City of Salt; from the strange objects created for Scotlandfuturebog to the sense of pagan release in behavior of the castaways of the iceberg in Eisbergfreistadt, Kahn and Selesnick maintain a sense that that abjection and apocalypse are balanced with the sacred; and that the sacred resides deep in human history, waiting only for the right image to call it up.

[1] Walter Benjamin, On the Concept of History

[2] Ben Marcus, scotlandfuturebog

[3] Walter Benjamin, On the Concept of History

[4] Walter Benjamin, On the Concept of History

[5] Kahn and Selesnick, Die Lubecker Zeitung, 17, November, 1923. 

[6] Notgeld was emergency printed up as localized forms of currency in Germany and Austria as a response to the metal shortages of WW1 and the hyperinflation of the 1920’s.  Incidentally, the first successful tax haven documented was in Liechtenstein in 1926. 

[7] Wenzel Hablik was a German artist and craftsman most commonly associated with German Expressionism.  His interest in crystal structure, ignited by a vision he had as a child, was central to his mode of artistic expression. Hablik, along with such individuals as Bruno Taut and Walter Gropius, formed the Crystal (or Glass) Chain because of their interest in crystal forms; especially in the way these forms suggested more organic architecture.

[8] Else Lasker-Schüler, “Oh God.”

[9] Bertold Brecht, “Motto”

[10] W. G. Sebald, Vertigo

[11] Fredrich Hölderlin, “Middle of Life”

[12] See, for example, Kevin R. Wood and James E. Overland.  2009. “Early 20th Century Arctic Warming in Retrospect.”  International Journal of Climatology.  30:  1269-1279

[13] This last “giant bear” pictured and described on the 17 November 1923 issue of Die Lubecker Zeitung. 

[14] Bertold Brecht, “From a German War Primer”

[15] Brecht’s nickname for Hitler was “The House-Painter”; Bertold Brecht, “From a German War Primer”

[16] Wenzel Hablik, Glass Chain Letters

[17] Paul Sheerbart “Glass Architecture” in Programs and Manifestoes on 20th-century Architecture by Ulrich Conrads, 1975, pg. 32. 

[18] Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five

[19] Dan Pagis, “Autobiography”

[20] Ingborg Bachmann, “Of a Land, a River, and Lakes”

[21] Fair refers to verweilen and is a reference to Goethe’s Faust; Walter Benjamin, On the Concept of History

[22] T. S. Eliot, The Wasteland”

[23] Falkner and Lieberman, The City of Salt

[24] Paul Celan, “By Threes, By Fours”

[25] Ben Marcus, Scotlandfuturebog

[26] Fredrich Hölderlin, “To the Fates”