Peek Inside the Looking Glass of Hudson Valley Artists Kahn & Selesnick
Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick narrate stories about environmental and societal collapse at the Carrie Haddad Gallery in Hudson.
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Photos by Kahn & Selesnick
Nicholas Kahn & Richard Selesnick make absurd and striking art in a style they call “fictional documentary.” Their work is full of eye-catching costumes drawn from commedia dell’arte, tarot, and folklore. The Valley residents (Kahn lives in Ghent, Selesnick in Rhinebeck) have collaborated with NASA for their Adrift on the Hourglass Sea project, in which the pair used Mars imagery to concoct a post-mortem of an imaginary Martian society.
They have also designed album art for Shearwater and Amanda Palmer, and have been exhibiting at Hudson’s landmark Carrie Haddad Gallery since 1993. They are displaying work from their latest project, Book of Fate, at the Carrie Haddad Gallery as part of the Mortals, Saints & Myths exhibition from June 12 through July 28. They will also be displaying work at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts through January 2020.
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How has the art scene in Hudson and the Hudson Valley changed since you moved here?
NK: It’s less affordable in places like Hudson to have a studio. Luckily, Carrie Haddad continues to rent studios to keep them affordable for people like us. But there are a lot of wealthier newcomers coming in. It’s spread us out; a lot of the people I see as my peers and my friends in Hudson have moved to Catskill and the surrounding area where there are cheaper studio spaces, and it’s cheaper to live.
But we still meet at various events in Hudson, it’s a great congregating place. And then places like Kingston seem to be popping up as alternatives to the slightly-too-posh and interior design-oriented qualities of Hudson.
Can you talk about the Book of Fate?
RS: It’s based around the concept of augury, which was originally trying to see the future in the patterns of flights of birds. But augury has come to mean a general attempting to see what the future is. So we’ve made a lot of circular images, and each one we view as either a kind of augury or a kind of instruction for how to perform one.
The previous Truppe Fledermaus project was about absurdist performances in nature, whereas this is more as if the Truppe are out there trying to parse the future from acts of augury or generally reading the natural signs. In the uncertain times we live in, with everyone very nervous about climate change and suchlike, it almost feels right to try and read nature for signs of the future.
What will you be exhibiting at the Carrie Haddad Gallery?
RS: Along with the circular photographs, we’re doing a dance of death. At Carrie’s we’ll have four of them, each about 6 feet long by 16 inches high, with the idea it’ll eventually be about 40 feet long. So the figures in the circles are based around general archetypes or personal archetypes, and a lot of those appear in this Dance of Death, and they’re related to the characters that are in the tarot deck.
At Carrie’s show a big part of the project are the tarot deck drawings, and we will include some circular drawings based around certain archetypal and alchemical imagery to go with telling the future.
Why take a fictional approach to addressing climate change?
RS: You see and read so many real accounts of the whole thing, and it becomes so alarming that you can’t take it in. So, if it’s a little more allegorical and it’s couched in something beautiful, then it can be easier for it to enter someone’s mind.
What are the visual inspirations for this project?
NK: I’m stuck on the French Revolutionary history. We’re all struggling to understand what’s going on politically, with both fascism coming and the Green Revolution that’s absolutely necessary to save the planet, and that’s what the Truppe is generally looking towards.
So it’s an important time to be looking at what went on in the French Revolution, and the possibilities when the masses do uprise and the great things we can achieve and the horrific things that the backlash to that will lead to. So we’ve been reading about and looking at the imagery from that time.
RS: It’s in the nature of these things, that any kind of violence begets more violence. So we like the idea of a more peaceable, green revolution.
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