Kahn + Selesnick / Rachel Bess

September 5 – October 28, 2017

Opening reception with the artists
Saturday, September 9, 2017, from 7:00 – 9:00pm

Lisa Sette Gallery’s fall exhibit marks the year’s diurnal progression toward a darker season with Rachel Bess’ oil portraits and the photo-collage constructions of collaborators Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick. Bess and Kahn/Selesnick revel in historical and retrofuturist aesthetics of the occult, marking resonances with our present moment of ecological and moral insecurity. In disparate media, these works demonstrate the irresistible intrigue of the fantastic and unknown in times of cultural upheaval.

Kahn/Selesnick’s meticulous photo-collages function as immersive cosmic systems from which the viewer may divine their own meaning or narrative based on a constellation of esoteric details. Each image catches an enticing fancy, mid-flight.  Their series, Madame Lulu’s Book of Fate, follows the continuing adventures of the Truppe Fledermaus, a motley, bat-masked crew that has featured in the duo’s recent works. Kahn/Selesnick explain Truppe Fledermaus as “A cabaret troupe of anxious mummers and would-be mystics who catalogue their absurdist attempts to augur a future that seems increasingly in peril due to environmental pressures and global turmoil.”

Writing in the New York Times, Vicki Goldberg described the adventures of Truppe Fledermaus as “apocalypse soon, delight in the meantime.”

For while a shining margin of rising floodwaters encircle many scenes of the Truppe, still its members seem to take pleasure where they can, traipsing in fancy-dress across wasted, watery, or overgrown landscapes, encountering last-of-their species creatures and attempting feats of technological transcendence with charming analogue contraptions.

Performing the roles of commedia del’arte and adhering to the democratizing customs of carnival, the costuming and elaborate backgrounds of Truppe Fledermaus explicitly recall 18th-century France; remarks Richard Selesnick:

“We see a correlation between that time period and our own, with the world teetering between enlightenment and violence. We often find it helpful to view our own anxieties through the lens of history in this way.”

Fortunetelling may also offer comfort in times of civilizational confusion, thus Madame Lulu’s Book of Fate comprises a deck of tarot cards and a bocca della veritá—a mouth of truth hearkening to the original Roman artifact. Madame Lulu’s visions are caught within a circular frame, as though through the lense of a sightglass, all the better to catch a glimpse of a possible future, or a substitute past, that somehow makes sense of the absurdity of the present moment.

A notion of existence outside the limits of time is also central to the eerie portraits of Rachel Bess. Bess remarks:

“I nearly always try to have my figures in a time that is not specific…and extends the possibility that [each portrait] may be set in the future, or I suppose an alternate ‘futurepast’.”

In Bess’ moody and precise oil-on-panel portraits this embodied “futurepast” seems to have sprung from our contemporary world, still grasping enchanted artifacts and treasures from beyond history. Amulets and magical talismans, poison bottles and turn-of-the-century cabaret costumes adorn the central figures of the portraits, each depicted in a moment of atmospheric hesitation, ensconced in the infinite cosmic darkness of myth or dreams.

The portraits’ subjects are young and attractive, with unconventional faces and bodies; their dreamy expressions and enigmatic background adds to their fascination. The luminous delineation of these figures in the shadows becomes an enchantment that commands further consideration. As viewers of both Bess’ and Kahn/Selesnick’s works, we are compelled to follow into the unknown realms they direct us toward. These are places of darkness but also beauty and seductive whimsy. And such strange loveliness begs the question: what do we have to lose?

The opening reception with the artists will be held on Saturday, September 9, 2017 from 7:00 – 9:00pm

Selected Work


More from Kahn/Selesnick
More from Rachel Bess