Richard Selesnick and Nicholas Kahn have been collaborating as Kahn/Selesnick since 1988 on a series of complex narrative photo-novellas and sculptural installations. They were both born in 1964, in New York City and London respectively and both are British citizens. They met at Washington University in St Louis where they collaborated informally from 1982-86 as photography majors. After graduation and a couple of years of showing their art separately they migrated to Cape Cod, Massachusetts to work on an evolving series of projects, some painting based, some photo based, all involving fictional attributions, narratives and sculpture. Between 1988 and 1995 they worked on installations combining painted portraits on plaster panels, bread, honey and wax sculptures displayed in wooden ritual architecture. A residency at The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown Massachusetts helped them create an elaborate full-scale oaken chapel; 'Der Ruteloft des Bet'ubten Bienenkaisers (The Rood-Loft of the Drunken Beekeeper) with 120 painted panels, all of heads in profile sprouting psychoactive plants from their mouths.
Tiring of working on painting locked up in a studio, they searched for a technique to better bring the narratives to life and returned to staged photography. Experimenting on Selworthy Beacon in Somerset, England they found that shooting a 360 degree panorama could more faithfully create a truer, more cinematic sense of the place, while their manipulation of costume, props and period color would help them alter the sense of time. In 1996 their first big show of photographic panoramas, 'The Flight Series', was set in the Wessex area of Britain in the mid 1930's. The Royal Excavation Corps' story was revealed through museological display cases filled with artifacts, historical documentation and actual photographs from a variety of real expeditions, which merged with the staged and costumed scenarios that were depicted on the heavily folded and inscribed sepia toned panoramas framed on the walls. Floating above the whole show were the two sets of ornithopter wings used by the R.E.C. to fly (with the notable help of hallucinogenic honey to assist in their belief that the flimsy wings might hold them aloft) lending the whole show a verisimilitude more suited for a traveling show of documentary history than the absurdist narratives that were on display.
In 1997 'The Pavilion of the Greenman' was first shown at the Decordova Museum just outside of Boston. This series of shallow focus profile portraits of the artists as Greenmen was shot with an 8' x 10' field camera. These were then displayed as an internally illuminated chapel roofed with leaves and with walled with the 27 glowing silver photographs printed on vellum. When blown up into four foot square silver prints the artist's faces masked by the flowers and leaves glued on with honey had a fearsome pagan drama to them; accompanied by fabricated historical documentation of songs and fertility rituals of Somersetshire, they further melted the boundary between man and plant.
In 1998-99 'The Circular River, the R.E.C. Siberian Expedition of 1945-46' continued the story of the R.E.C to its post-war conclusion. A seven-foot wide leather bound book held the 60 long sepia panoramas and 100 pages of text. Together they told the parallel stories of Peter Hesselbach, a lost German glider pilot gone native and the R.E.C.'s search for him among the Buryat Shaman's of Northeastern Siberia. Objects purportedly loaned by the Novosibirsk Museum of Ethnography accompanied the show. The photographs were laser-color prints on cotton in an edition of five, but had the appearance of vintage folded panoramas, they were painstakingly collaged together by hand, stained and inscribed with the notes from the expedition.
In 2000 Kahn and Selesnick were Artists in Residence, at the Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts, where the larger crowd scenes for their post-apocalyptic whiskey-dark epic 'Scotlandfuturebog' were shot. These were digitally combined 4'x5' film shot on location on the Isle of Skye, the Beara Peninsula in Ireland along with the bogs of Cape Cod. The Computer was at last allowed into the studio to aid the artists bringing their future distopia to life. The panoramas were shown first as giclee prints on translucent Gampi rice paper up to 12 feet long and 2 feet high; these had an ephemeral silky materiality that suited their future-historical impossibility. Designed to resemble the artists hand bound version of the project, Aperture Press printed a limited edition boxed book with vellum gatefolds for Scotlandfuturebog, the design of which won the New York Book Show, best photography book of 2002.
In early 2001, a 2-month winter residency at Djerrasi Artist Program in Woodside, California facilitated the creation of a complex miniature city of salt-encrusted ceramic minarets and stupas that was set up on location in Death Valley for Kahn/Selesnick's next project 'City of Salt'. Unfolding in the vast deserts and lush oasis of an unnamed orientalist landscape and printed in the out of register tones of an archaic early color process, the stories of greed, oil and spiritual enlightenment echo the uneasy relationships of West and East in this time of perpetual war. The short parables that accompany the photos are a collaboration between Kahn/Selesnick and writers Sarah Falkner and Erez Lieberman. Aperture published 'City of Salt' as a boxed limited edition monograph in 2005. The prints vary in size from 36' wide to 100' wide and are printed on cream-colored Arches cotton paper as archival digital prints.
An feature article on the artist's collaboration at Phillips Andover in the New York Times lead to a 2002 semester long residency at Toni Morrison's Atelier Program at Princeton University, allowing the artists to collaborate with the students on the genesis of the next Kahn/Selesnick project 'The Apollo Prophecies' Taking over 4 years to complete, the project slowly unfurls as an epic panorama telling the plight of a lost Edwardian English expedition to the Moon. One follows the lunar module through the panorama discovering NASA's hidden story of how a settlement was found awaiting for them on the moon, how they were greeted as Gods, prophesied in great stone alignments, and heralded by a prophetic sacred text, before returning to earth with canisters of Moon Paste as evidence. The entire story is told in one immensely long seamless panorama, 10' high by 50 feet long in one version. It shot for the first time entirely digitally and printed in quad-tone black carbon inks on Hahnemuhle paper. An accordion book edition of the 'Apollo Prophecies' will be forthcoming from Aperture in October 2006 along with a special limited edition boxed set including a DVD of the movie Kahn/Selesnick shot on their version of the moon. The project also features a booklet with reproductions of all the drawings and portraits of the astronauts and lunar artifacts as well as the prophetic text (another collaboration with Erez Lieberman).
Nicholas Kahn lives in a 1925 Sears Kit House in Hudson NY with writer, activist and healer Sarah Falkner along with two cats , two rabbits, and three hermit crabs. Richard Selesnick lives in a Victorian villa in the village of Rhinebeck, NY, with his wife, child, border collie, and a deft mouser. They maintain satellite branches of the Royal Excavation Corps in Bantry , County Cork, Ireland, and in Truro, Cape Cod. They are currently recreating the famous Truppe Fledermaus's
Memory Theatre of 1932 with its full compliment of Batfolk, Greenmen, Rope-Slingers, and Death-Dancers in all their Carnivalesque glory.