Acclaimed New York/British-born collaborative duo Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick utilize a variety of media including photography, painting, drawing, prints and sculptures in service of their startlingly original visual narratives. Together since the 1980s, Kahn + Selesnick have purposefully invented inexplicable, yet visually invigorating historiographies – adventures in which there is no division between fact and fiction. As in all of their past series including “Apollo Prophesies,” “Eisbergfreistadt” and “City of Salt”, the artists build onto select cultural facts with sheer fantasy – all designed to reflect an even larger scope of reality. Kahn + Selesnick’s most recent series, “Truppe Fledermaus and the Carnival at the End of the World” furthers the artists’ language as it takes its inspiration from Italian philosopher Giulo Camillo’s 1550 Memory Theater. The enigmatic series tells the visual tale of a chimerical cabaret troupe traversing the outskirts of imaginary and recognizable towns where their enigmatic performances play repeatedly for no one.
As a continuation of the arresting narrative begun in Kahn + Selesnick’s earlier chapters of “Truppe Fledermaus and the Carnival at the End of the World,” the newest installment in the series entitled “Dreams of the Drowning World,” is the first part of the epilogue to the ongoing fictional tale. Evocative of a dissociated, dream-like state, the Truppe characters have often found themselves immersed, literally and figuratively, in the world’s rising waters.
As always, Kahn + Selesnick offer license to the viewer to interpret the series’ many-layered and complex meanings, as each imaginative work reveals a melding of vast and varied influences from human history through cultural references of art and literature, politics and recent events within the natural world. In this current phase of the series, Kahn + Selesnick allude to the 1851 masterwork of John Everett Millais’ Ophelia, a painting inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, noting however, that the Kahn + Selesnick figures float apart from death in a kind of personal stasis.
Also, the dramatic occurrences of the 2011 Japanese earthquake and subsequent tsunami, New Orleans’ Hurricane Katrina stand as equal references to the artists’ tale as does the Netherland’s ever shifting sea in the midst of a warming planet. Each varied reference furthers the narrative to express a climate of fear both pervasive and cautionary – an aspect which exists in each of Kahn + Selesnick’s fictional tales in forms both surreal and beautiful. Through their signature cinematic approach, Kahn + Selesnick consistently present the engaged viewer with seemingly inexhaustible imagery and its potential for metaphor; a work that is densely layered to create a mesmerizing experience to reflect a modern world.
Graduates of Washington University at St. Louis, Kahn + Selesnick have been awarded artist residencies at Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts; the Djerrasi Artist Program, Woodside, California; and Toni Morrison’s Atelier Program at Princeton University, New Jersey. Their work has been shown in more than eighty solo exhibitions throughout the US and Belgium and in group exhibitions in China, France, Germany, Monaco, and Norway. Museum exhibitions include: Brooklyn Museum of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Photography and Field Museum, Overbeck-Gesellschaft, Lübeck, Germany, and Cape Cod Museum of Art. Their work is in the permanent collections of the LA County Museum of Art, Boston Public Library, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Fogg Museum of Art, National Portrait Gallery, the Denver Art Museum and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.