Meeting with Kahn & Selesnick


“they recently discovered that dna
came to earth on meteorites
and was likely from mars”…

“Richard Selesnick and Nicholas Kahn have been collaborating as Kahn/Selesnick since 1988 on a series of complex narrative photo-novellas
and sculptural installations”… thus start their biography on the comprehensive website. I was caught by their latest project ‘Mars: Adrift on the Hourglass Sea’ subtitled ‘Desolation and the Sublime on a distant planet’.

Prior to the meeting with them I had a chat just with Nicolas Kahn—who describes the duo’s work ethic as “omnivorous artists, every medium, any new challenge excites us”—to find out what they would like to be interviewed on:

nicholas kahn 20:28
mars, and our collaborative process, and the project
we are now working on to do with bats

nicholas kahn 20:39
we’ve done plenty of interviews
always fun coming up with new lies

the perfect lie is the world ?
we are always trying to unravel the big lie, and all the knots inside it,
but tie a few ourselves along the way

oo many things on there (the website Ed.),
but there are themes that run through all our work

which are ?
nicholas kahn 20:51
thats for tomorrow

And here is that promised tomorrow, August 19 8:45 New York/Cape Cod time—the recorded times are CET—when I chat with Kahn /Selesnick, the following is almost uncut, unedited, unpunctuated… as a matter of fact the whole conversation as we went on. There are some reason why it has to be done like this: the subjects were not distinct, the flux in answers and the few questions I want to keep intact since it reflects the way Kahn and Selesnick not only work together rather think and speak together:


narayana 14:46
are you both receiving me ok ?
nicholas kahn 14:47
yes indeed
rselesnick 14:47
receiving good
nicholas kahn 14:47
glorious morning here too
rselesnick 14:47
and here on cape cod
nicholas kahn 14:47
any questions from the blogosphere?
they generally are grumpy
and don’t like participating
narayana 14:48
you’re right there… no feedback whatsoever yet, still it is a first attempt
and it was an impulsive idea
rselesnick 14:48
too bad, but we’re ready for questions
nicholas kahn 14:49
i hear from my girlfriend that she often sees these kind of questions on facebook blogs
and never any responses
unless one is lady gaga
narayana 14:50
you must have heard from SHOWstudio, indeed when Gaga
gets going people stick like glue
they recently had a project with Nicola Formichetti, the stylist of Gaga and now designer for Mugler… working on it to create something in that sphere for the art culture
nicholas kahn 14:51
i like her style
just keep the music on mute
narayana 14:51

visual identity matters
nicholas kahn 14:52
perhaps too much

narayana 14:53
blame it on the Egyptians and the hieroglyphs that started visual communication?
nicholas kahn 14:53
a big inspiration for both of us, saw the tutankhamun show at age 12 in new york , i learned style from egypt
i actually am looking at them again recently
rselesnick 14:54
the Egyptian burial boats were an influence on the martian boats from the hourglass sea series
nicholas kahn 14:55
their mix of minimalism and complex narrative construction works great for us
the way the symbols pared down each form to its essence
rselesnick 14:55
and the concept of a journey to a different world
nicholas kahn 14:55
incredible shapes, so modern
so perfect for the future/past of mars
rselesnick 14:56
in our series the boats were turned to stone and travel across the martian seas with incredible slowness, on an ocean of geologic time
varying movements of time was a theme of the project
the mythological landscape that exists beneath the real landscape, dream-times that lie behind clock time, these are consistent themes in our work
nicholas kahn 15:01
we have moved from the 1930s england to the moon in edwardian times and the 1960s, back to 1923 weimar germany to mars in the future /past and now to 30s america and its bat plague that is actually happening today
rselesnick 15:02
the martian landscape also functioned as the ruined landscape, the decertified landscape that lies underneath our lush green world on earth
nicholas kahn 15:02
a constant gyration from future to past from project to project but always in the end dealing with issues of today, and ruin of our planet that is in front of us
rselesnick 15:03
and behind us

narayana 15:03
speaking of the concept of a different world… since the being of human kind it seems a part of the journeys man can make. For the matter time is what we want to control ?
rselesnick 15:04
we are definitely interested in using the mind as a time machine to travel to other realms and times, like buddhist meditation, etc
nicholas kahn 15:05
the concept of past lives and reincarnation also intrigues us personally and enters the work in sly ways
rselesnick 15:05
this was one of the ideas behind the mars project, that we could travel to different points in it’s history, including after humans had come and gone, in failed colonization attempts

narayana 15:07
do you think in a way this means traveling back to the future… ? i find these themes relate to modern media, starting from photography to film to online multimedia
rselesnick 15:07

areas of time are as different as different geographic locations, even if located in the same geographical space
nicholas kahn 15:07
yes photography is a time travel medium
one of the reasons we are attracted to it
rselesnick 15:08
being able to travel this way as artists was our first goal, and started us collaborating together in college
nicholas kahn 15:09
i am always trying to travel to the world of my father that i saw in films he shot in world war two europe, a world in the midst of an apocalypse
rselesnick 15:09
we built stone circles together in our apartment
nicholas kahn 15:09
a self destroying marvel of beauty and horror
and also travel like richard said to the worlds of our ancient ancestors
rselesnick 15:10
and populated it with trees and rabbits, a dream of nature in the city
nicholas kahn 15:10
i had a childhood of summers in england
and found so much more mysteries tied up in the landscape there
so when richard and i met in college
we bonded on our regard for archaeology
and the history and romance of the english landscape for us
rselesnick 15:11
we both missed the bucolic landscape of our childhood, stuck in suburbia
nicholas kahn 15:11
american suburbia is so soul destroying
our work was a response to that. Neo-romantic
looking for the sublime
rselesnick 15:14
the search for the sublime was a big theme of mars series, the sublime is often terrifying and overwhelming in nature – we looked a lot at apocalyptic landscape painting of the nineteenth century


narayana 15:14
you remind me of Richard Long, the guy who build (geometrical) spaces in landscapes—wouldn’t the sublime be without space and time?
nicholas kahn 15:15
we loved the long walks of long
the idea of the pilgrimage as art
and performance and the landscape
he did connect those threads about time and space in such an elegant and simple way
we often found on our hikes on english hilltops
that the march itself was a performance
with our props and costumes
and our photos the mere 2 dimensional relics
of the joys and hardships of those incredible hikes we have together
so much of our process happens during those discussions we have on the tough climbs on open moors
rselesnick 15:18
yes, the actual trek out to these amazing places to take the photos is like a mystical journey for us, a pilgrimage – the experience itself is as important as the end product
this means that going back and looking at the work, it stays fresh as a document of a mental journey, as well as a remanent of a physical one

narayana 15:20
there is much to do about art becoming a marketplace or art desolving for marketeering. i rather want to state that art should replace religion, since ancient times art was mostly commissioned by ruling religions all over the world?

rselesnick 15:22
making art, and looking at art, and being influenced by it, the dialogue across time with other artists, be they ancient Egyptian or modernists is a religious experience for us, so I would have to agree with that statement
nicholas kahn 15:23
the art of the spiritual and visionary has long been touchstone for us, and yet we live off of sales of our work, its a strange moment in time and place where we attempt to create something timeless, and yet hope it reverberates for our audience so much so that they must exchange strange certificates of paper for it,
rselesnick 15:23
art and religion are inexorably intertwined for us
nicholas kahn 15:24
but as for commerce, we are often looking at the Weinner Werkstatte as a model
we love the idea of artists and craftsmen working together collaboratively
in every medium
and a central collective creating a whole world
and that being available for people
for their homes
rselesnick 15:25
and certainly love to sell our work, it’s the only way we can afford to make more
nicholas kahn 15:25
erasing the boundaries
william morris saw the connection between spirituality and the art object
in england during the craftmen movement
and he was the model for the Weiner Werkstaette group
rselesnick 15:27
people who buy our work get into the entire world we create and often want all the accompanying texts, books, etc that go with it – an immersive experience
nicholas kahn 15:27
and today one can see the longing of people for the handmade
so we try to keep our art not too slick
show the human behind it
rselesnick 15:28
when we make crafts, objects, playing cards etc, they are all part of the world we are making
nicholas kahn 15:28
Eisbergfreistadt was filled with strange objects
rselesnick 15:28
they make it more real
nicholas kahn 15:28
that told the story
as much as the photos
the novel formed in peoples head
rselesnick 15:28
evidence that these worlds of our imagination physically exist also
nicholas kahn 15:28
trying to piece the many strains of the story together from all the media
and the disjuncture is for people, the alternating voices
that these objects and photos are real
and tell a real story
of a real place
rselesnick 15:29
a fractured story that the viewer reassembles in his own head, which is also how history is written
nicholas kahn 15:29
and the absurdities that go on
in the story
that tell them they must doubt all that they see
unless a greater hand that creates miracles
has created the world
we instill doubt
in the world we all perceive from every media to be fixed and real
it all is manipulated
rselesnick 15:31
rebuilding the world while on walkabout in the dreamtime
nicholas kahn 15:31
ours is just a bit more so


narayana 15:31
One you might have been sleeping on: What theory keeps you sane, the Bible or Darwin ? And were the Gods aliens ?
nicholas kahn 15:32
they recently discovered that DNA came to earth on meteorites
and was likely from mars
so I’m happy to believe we are descendants of microbes
from another planet
perhaps another solar system
and all our cousins just get knocked around from planet to planet waiting for the right conditions to arise
rselesnick 15:34
I don’t know about the gods being aliens – I tend to think that there are infinitely massive intelligences out there that dwarf ours so throughly that we are incapable of even perceiving them as such. this sense of a much huger picture beyond the human perspective definitely helps me stay sane, even if I am only able to intuit what it could be
nicholas kahn 15:35
I’m a big fan of dark matter
the stuff we cant see
that seems to carry most of the the hidden communication in the universe
rselesnick 15:36
dark matter rules, some things should stay unknowable, you gotta keep the mystery
nicholas kahn 15:36
there is also in DNA 90% of it seems useless
but in fact these tangled bits of junk
actually affect us more than we can know
they may control cancers onset
its all just now being hinted at
the same on the macrocosm
the god concept is so ridiculous
its much more grand than we can imagine
in our quaint myths
rselesnick 15:38
we both love the strange ends of theoretical physics, proves the underlying structures are wonderous strange
nicholas kahn 15:38
perhaps why humor is such a big part of our search for the sublime
rselesnick 15:39
the marriage of the absurd and the sublime is in some ways our ruling principle
narayana 15:41
then you will like this question: to reverse things from your thoughts & perspective… are space and science a reflections of human capabilities? (as if we were sitting in a cinema chair staring at the screen)
rselesnick 15:43
the arrow can point either way, it is all part of the same continuum
narayana 15:43
that’s hinduism
nicholas kahn 15:44
Richards grandmother lived in india during the raj
and his mum was born in india
if i am remembering your personal mythology right
rselesnick 15:44
but I’ve not been there myself
nicholas kahn 15:45
but i spent a month in hindu and buddhist temples in nepal
and hindu mythology
in the mars story
Shivanarayana , Vishnu on the snakes
was what sculpture i saw in Katmandu
and we recreated on mars
in our photo Airmaker
a man/god
laying on a bed of metal snaky tubes
upon a pool of algae water
making air and sleeping
under the sky on the great hourglass sea of mars

narayana 15:50
my ancestors came from India and i was born in surinam (latin america)… still I was interested mostly in Tibetan religion at a sudden point: the book of death, and then i found some link to the egyptian culture and there was something about the Verbo Merifico I found in some book, it sounds quite incoherent
(so this is not a question)
nicholas kahn 15:51
i to have loved the tibetan book of the dead, and here in front of me lies a copy of the egyptian book of the dead
narayana 15:51
yes that book
nicholas kahn 15:51
those myths about the journey
between lives
into the dream-states
have always been guidebooks for us
more than the bible
rselesnick 15:52
I have to go out, do you have enough material narayana?
narayana 15:52
plenty! thank you
haven’t asked anything about your Bat project yet
nicholas kahn 15:52
haaa, I can be mr bat
rselesnick 15:52
thank you, can’t wait to check out the article – thanks!
nicholas kahn 15:53
I can stay a bit longer if you need
but don’t mind
if you stop too
you sent us down our more metaphysical alleys
hope the ‘Blenders’
don’t mind
rselesnick 15:53
if you have further questions, you can email us and we’ll try and clarify.
narayana 15:55
well, I’m still online and if you want to share somethings , I wouldn’t mind
nicholas kahn 15:55
I’m here, and will be working on the bat photos and drawings and sculpture today and posting them to our works in progress blog.
a mouthful
will have it linked to
but haven’t done that yet
so no one knows about it yet. we are in early stages in this new project
so its hard to say too much about it
rselesnick 15:58
still working out what it’s all about, where it takes place etc
nicholas kahn 15:58
but people always want to see what we are currently obsessing on
so this is a way
to give them some clues
but no answers