The show currently running in the Cress Gallery is of a collaborative team, Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick. I had the pleasure of seeing the Visiting Artist Lecture given by them just prior to the show opening, and speaking with them at the show.
Kahn and Selesnick have collaborated since finishing college in 1986. They specialize in mixing narrative histories with elaborately constructed “artifacts” of the time period depicted. Characters and artifacts are captured in panoramic photographs for posterity.
The show in the Cress Gallery features The Apollo Prophecies and the newest collaboration, Eisbergfreistadt. The former details NASA’s discovery of a Victorian settlement on the moon, with the astronauts being greeted as gods, while the latter covers the 1923 founding of a city on an enormous iceberg that floated into port in Lubeck, Germany.
My favorite aspect of Kahn and Selesnick’s work is that the line between fact and fiction is ambiguous. Obviously, it’s pretty easy to tell in the Apollo Prophecies what’s fiction (almost all of it – astronauts did land on the moon, but that’s the extent of the facts), but Eisbergfreistadt is entirely different. The “memorabilia” from the iceberg city mix actual artifacts with those constructed by Kahn and Selesnick and there’s no indication of which is which.
I asked Mr. Kahn how much of the historical narrative/artifacts were real and was told the economy in Germany, 1923, did crash. Inflation was exponential and cities started printing their own money. However, the money was devalued almost as soon as it was printed and eventually the paper it was printed on was worth more than the denomination of the marks. For example, one day an egg may cost 500,000 marks and the next day the same egg would cost 1,000,000 marks. People started using the marks as wallpaper, etc. One of the items on exhibit is a beautifully crafted coat made from marks.
Kahn and Selesnick use black and white for most of their photography. I had a chance to ask Mr. Selesnick how they choose the palettes they work with. Mr. Selesnick said he prefers not to use color at all, but when they’ve decided to use it, in general the palette has low saturation. The point of their work is to make things look historical, so rich bold colors wouldn’t convey age.
Kahn and Selesnick take their inspiration from many sources. One of the artists that stood out for me was William Blake. They showed several examples of photographs that were finely detailed derivatives of William Blake prints.
The show is very impressive and ought not to be missed. Definitely see it before it’s gone. The show runs in the Cress Gallery through March 16th.