Kahn & Selesnick: The Apollo Prophecies and Eisbergfreistadt


April 9 - June 26, 2010

Works from The Apollo Prophecies and Eisbergfreistadt, two distinct series from collaborative artists Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick, were exhibited at [Artspace] at Untitled. The Apollo Prophecies proposes the first U.S. astronauts to go to the moon discovered that a lost mission of Edwardian-era explorers had already colonized it. Included in the exhibit were large panoramic prints illustrating the exhibition from lift off to landing and fabricated "artifacts" from this early lunar journey.Eisbergfreistadt is a fictional narrative inspired by the 1923 occurence of a mammoth iceberg running aground in the Baltic port of Lubeck, Germany inciting apocolyptic paranoia in its citizens. With this exhibit, the artists explored currency inflation, global warming and end-of-the-world rhetoric through colorful panoramic prints, costumes made of fictional money and a variety of other actual and fabricated artifacts.

Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick have been collaborating over the past two decades on paintings, sculpture, and video, but primarily on their signature panoramic photographs illustrating semi-fictional events.  In art historical terms, this is called ‘staged photography’ and they have remained at the forefront of the genre, influencing successive generations of photographers who have now firmly established it as a recognized movement.

The high quality they apply to the production of their work, their exhaustive research for supportive texts, and their attention to detail in the development of their fabulist narratives results in convincingly real documents that question scientific truths and historical fact. While many of their stories have a humorous or satirical subtext, their presentation can be seriously academic, referencing classical art. For their Apollo Prophecies, they draw upon a style of Italian fresco cycles of the early Renaissance whereby a story is told in multiple episodes featuring the same characters appearing numerous times throughout a continuous panel. In their accompanying texts, this becomes quasi-religious, echoing the concept of astronauts as gods.

Their work may even have political overtones as seen in the Eisbergfreistadt series. For Kahn and Selesnick, the literally dissolving iceberg is an ironic and prophetic image of global warming. They appropriate Weimar utopianism and hyperinflation as analogues for the conditions of our day and remind us that art often does imitate life. They show us what can happen at moments of economic crisis and panic, when the natural, political, and economic worlds seem to be colliding without resolution. 

Looking further into the future, Kahn and Selesnick have recently been working on a series of photographs for NASA that deal with the manned exploration of Mars. One can only imagine how close to fictional this new narrative may become.