Kahn & Selesnick: The Apollo Prophecies and Mars Adrift on the Hourglass Sea

Stillborn, 2010, Ink jet print, Courtesy Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York

About the Exhibition

Constructivists, Time Travelers, Model Makers, Archeologists, Deconstructivists, Collectors, Photographers, Evocateurs, Postmodernists, Jokesters, Computer Geeks, Actors, Poets, Retro-futurists, Dreamers, Sculptors, Absurdists, Storytellers…

These words appear during the opening credits of Kahn & Selesnick’s film Apollo Prophecies (2005), a documentary on the making of their project by the same name, providing entertaining insight into how the artists fancy themselves. Known for creating whimsical and elaborately constructed photographs, drawings, and sculptures, Nicholas Kahn (American, b. 1964) and Richard Selesnick (American, b. 1964) have been spinning wild visual tales together for more than twenty years. Their practice involves dreaming up complex fictional narratives based on real historical events and injecting them with a wry sense of humor, while sparking new considerations of history and time.

Both born in 1964, the artists were five years old when they watched the first American spaceship land on the moon.

Apollo Prophecies (2004), for example, is based on a reinterpretation of the first world event of historical significance that the two men remember clearly. Both born in 1964, they were five years old when they watched the first American spaceship land on the moon. In their fictional version of the moon landing, the 1960s astronauts arrive on the moon only to discover that someone has beat them there, in this case Edwardian dandies who arrived circa 1905. Partly inspired by literature such as Victor Pelevin’s Omon Ra (1992), Andrew Chaikin’s A Man on the Moon (1998), and the classic French children’s cartoon Tintin, their Apollo project is a compelling mix of elements drawn from historical and science-fictional accounts of the moon landing, and those that Kahn and Selesnick simply dream up.

Kahn & Selesnick’s most recent project, Mars: Adrift on the Hourglass Sea (2010), features two female protagonists wandering aimlessly in a bizarre Martian landscape. As in the Apollo project, someone has been there before them, and they encounter detritus from the mysteriously vacated civilization including pyramids, obelisks, giant balloons, and concrete boats. Comprising photographs taken by NASA’s Mars rovers and by the artists themselves in the Nevada and Utah deserts, these landscapes have a surreal quality. Inspired by Edmund Burke’s quote from 1756: “Terror is in all cases the ruling principle of the sublime,”—Kahn and Selesnick’s view of humankind and the universe is as frightening as it is beautiful. By blending references to various time periods, both past and future, their work probes our conception of time as a linear phenomenon. In their absurdity and ambiguity they reveal our deep-seated need to cling to what we think we know, and provoke us to let go and experience the fanciful.

—Karen Irvine, Curator