Saturday, March 3, 2007

Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick at Irvine Contemporary

Lauren Rice

I would not ordinarily feel compelled to review a photography exhibition. However, after reviewing Melissa Ichiuji’s soft sculptures, I wandered into an adjoining room only to discover, well, a photography exhibition. Due to lack of time, I thought, what the hey, I’ll give it a shot.

This was my first thought. My second thought was that these works are somehow connected to Leonardo da Vinci and his flying machines diagrams. The works of collaborators Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick’s The Apollo Prophesies, at Irvine Contemporary evoked a feeling of fantastical innovation, a feeling of speed, dreams and desire. Furthermore, their photographs, which are reminiscent of film stills, began to discuss the history of humankind’s ambition to fly in order to colonize a new land or escape an old one. Perhaps I initially connected these photographs to da Vinci’s flight studies because da Vinci’s drawings appeal to this same dramatic feeling. Secondarily, the mixed media works directly referenced da Vinci’s initial flight diagrams.

These photos have a comedic quality. Perhaps it is because the men in the images feel too big for their flying apparatus and that they are so invested in what seems to be an absurd process. I have to admit that I have never been overtly fond of photography. And so my bias is stated. However, most of Kahn and Selesnick’s photos have a surreal value contrast that I find formally intriguing in addition to the absurdity of the images. The characters in these works display an ambition comparable to da Vinci’s own ambitious flying machines drawings. However, we are a good many years past the age of da Vinci and have already mastered flight. So why are these images being exhibited?

The myth of Icarus and mankind’s long-lived desire to fly to high for his own good comes to mind. And why was Icarus attempting to fly anyway? In order to escape, says the myth. So from where are these cumbersome aeronauts attempting to flee? Perhaps a planet that they have destroyed? Hmmmm.

Apollo, commonly affiliated with the Greek sun god is also (according to Encyclopedia Mythica) the god of prophecy and colonization. He is also affiliated with plague (!). I remember from my childhood that he also tried to woo poor Daphne who had to turn herself into a tree in order to escape his advances. And we must assume the “Apollo Prophecy” is mankind’s failure at flight. The title of the exhibition suggests that humans may begin with good ideas and intentions, but that we abuse our powers of innovation and are therefore destined to fail. The aforementioned comical aspect of these photographs reiterates this assesment. After all, although we have “mastered” flight, it still poses significant obstacles.

One of my favorite works on view, Launch, shows two men in the pilot seats of a rocket. However, the rocket is splayed in half revealing the maze of intestinal machinery in the bowels of the rocket ship. Perhaps I found this most interesting because of its connection of Ichiuji’s adjacent sculptures. We often forget to engage with the interior of things and the complexity that makes them function. In this way, both exhibitions at Irvine dealt with exposure of the underneath.

My last thought regarding these photographs occurred as I’ve been writing. And the thought goes: why photography? These images felt better suited to a film narrative; they were illustrative. I know that there was an accompanying book to the show (I did not have a chance to look at it…) so perhaps the artists literally illustrated a story there. However, these works as photographs in frames on a gallery wall just did not complete the picture for me. No pun intended.

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