criticismExhibitions
Friday, February 18th, 2011

Unitard Fabulists Adrift: Kahn & Selesnick on the Hourglass Sea


Kahn & Selesnick Mars: Adrift on the Hourglass Sea at Yancey Richardson Gallery

January 6 – February 19, 2011
535 West 22nd Street 3rd floor, between 10th and 11th avenues
New York City, 646-230-9610

Kahn & Selesnick, Cave, 2010. Archival Ink Jet Print, 44 x 44 inches.  Courtesy of Yancey Richardson Gallery

Kahn & Selesnick, Cave, 2010. Archival Ink Jet Print, 44 x 44 inches. Courtesy of Yancey Richardson Gallery

Kahn & Selesnick fabulize at the intersection of historical fact, apocalyptic future, nerdy museology and steam-punk.  Melding childlike playfulness with adult obsessiveness they create faux-historical narratives realized as photography, sculpture, and installation.

Mars: Adrift on the Hourglass Sea, currently on view at Yancey Richardson Gallery, depicts the adventures of two unitard-attired women as they explore an unwelcoming landscape studded with the defunct remains of ambiguous circuitry, abandoned dish-structures, and enigmatic monoliths.  Most of the works are photographs, including a few of the detailed panoramic scenes that the team is known for.  Five mid-size dry-looking hematite and concrete sculptures are positioned on the gallery floor, as though the exploring team had managed to send back a few heavy artifacts from the crumbled civilization they investigate.

The environment was digitally constructed from actual photo-mosaics of Martian landscapes taken by NASA, combined with deserts in Nevada and Utah.  The female protagonist’s clothing is compellingly impractical- many outfits lack arms or eye-holes, though concessions to the necessity of breathing are plentiful – every bodysuit comes equipped with a facemask, and snakelike tubes coil around an “Abandoned Oxygen Farm” and lie tangled in shallow lakes.  This Mars has water, and hence, the ability to sustain life- though judging by the occasional space-suited corpse, not forever.

Kahn & Selesnick, Squidnight, 2010. Archival Ink Jet Print, 12 x 12 inches.  Courtesy of Yancey Richardson Gallery

Kahn & Selesnick, Squidnight, 2010. Archival Ink Jet Print, 12 x 12 inches. Courtesy of Yancey Richardson Gallery

With Mars: Adrift on the Hourglass Sea, Kahn & Selesnick have departed from previous more “academic” displays – where labeled artifacts were carefully presented in display cases and copious documentation of the expedition was presented in the form of a diary or log, or elaborately forged newspaper articles.  Their new deliberate ambiguity liberates the earthbound preoccupations of artist and viewer alike, allowing suspension of disbelief.   Oddly this suspension both strengthens the impact of the show, and allows it to be perceived more intuitively.  When rules of space and time are too obviously suspended, as in Oracle, 2010, where a blue-clad figure regards a half-sphere upon which stands a blue-clad figure regarding a half-sphere, and so on like self-consciously meta- Russian nesting dolls it’s hard not to be jolted by the impossibility – a sign of prior credence.

Kahn & Selesnick’s ongoing interest in inefficient transportation extends beyond the recurring motifs of balloons and dirigibles to gliders and “sandboats.”  Humankind has made it to Mars, but with technology from the turn of the 20th century.  This is the second series where the team has combined science fiction and space travel with archaic means – in The Apollo Prophesies, man lands on the moon, only to discover that it has already been colonized by an expedition from the Edwardian era.

If, as the artists presuppose, humankind has truly come unstuck in time and place, as the hourglass of the title is endlessly flipped end to end, we must address the unsettling question: Is Mars’s past our present?  If so, is Mars’s present, Earth’s future?

One might conjecture that the team’s recurring choice of explorers as protagonists reveals something of their psyches – the artist as intrepid traveler in a strange land – but Kahn & Selesnick do separate reality from art in “real” life (unlike say, McDermott & McGough.)  It is only in their art that there is no division between fact and fabrication.  The distinction is irrelevant – to belabor it would be missing the point. In art, unlike life, there is no physical or temporal limitation.

Two concurrent exhibitions of Kahn & Selesnick:

The Apollo Prophesies and Mars: Adrift on the Hourglass Sea
Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago
600 S. Michigan Ave, Chicago, through April 3. 312.663.5554

Mars: Adrift on the Hourglass Sea
Carl Hammer Gallery
740 North Wells Street, Chicago, through February 19. 312.266.8512

Kahn & Selesnick, Momento Mori, 2010. Archival Ink Jet Print, 44 x 44 inches.  Courtesy of Yancey Richardson Gallery

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Kahn & Selesnick, Janus/Symbiosis, 2010. Archival Ink Jet Print, 12 x 12 inches.  Courtesy of Yancey Richardson Gallery

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