Poignant Publication no.1 // 100 Views of the Drowning World
Welcome to number 1 in our new series Poignant Publications (a sister series to Poignant Pics). Last October at Click! Photo Festival, Gordon Stettinius gave us a sneak peek of Candela's new title 100 Views of the Drowning World by Kahn & Selesnick. Being a long time fan of this dynamic duo myself, I was very excited about this new project and the collaboration between artists and publisher. Recently, Gordon took a few minutes to answer some of my questions in regards. But first, for context, let's take a look at the project in this video provided by Candela.
Blue Mitchell: How did Candela come to partner with Kahn & Selesnick?
Gordon Stettinius: Candela published Black Forest a few years back and Russell Joslin, the editor, had included two images from Kahn & Selesnick in that strange and beautiful little book. Candela Gallery shared both of those images in an exhibition to support the book and we started a relationship that way. I had been following this body of work and mentioned to them a couple of years ago that when they were ready to bring this project to publishers that I would love to have a look at it. Thankfully, they remembered that conversation!
BM: Kahn & Selesnick seem interested in a more unconventional and interactive book, for instance, the Apollo Prophecies (Aperture) is an accordion style book. In your press release, you state "100 Views of the Drowning World is modeled on Ukiyo-e series". Can you explain that further, and how did Candela and the artists decide on this format?
GS: When the artists sent me their maquette of 100 Views of the Drowning World, it was an incredibly tight maquette already. I had some input in minor ways and handled a good deal of the final production work but their original comp was my guide as I put the book together for press. We did decide to change the cover from what they originally presented me and I am kind of in love with the cover. As for being modeled after the Ukiyo-e series, the artists might better respond to that genre's inspiration to them. But from my own limited research ukiyo (which means 'floating world') described a lifestyle of abundance due to a rising Japanese merchant class in the 17th century and the wealth that afforded those merchants various luxuries, including art and books. During this time, series of woodblock prints became a popular artistic movement and a particular style of publishing artist works. One of the more popular artists of the period, Hiroshige had a collection of works entitled 100 Views of Edo, which Richard and Nicholas have referred to in their own conversations about their new book.
It is true that the artists both have an interest in unconventional book design. Apollo Prophecies is pretty outrageous really. I have shown that book off in my gallery almost as much as I have shown off the new book. The idea of breaking out of the conventional western codex design was a huge part of the appeal for me. My own evolution as publisher, I hope, will take me in different directions and working with Kahn & Selesnick has been really inspirational in this regard. I told them early on that I knew I would get a little too much credit for the production of the book when mostly I was just trying to give them the book they were looking for.
BM: How is 100 Views of the Drowning World different from previous Kahn & Selesnick books/bodies of work?
GS: I have been thinking about these two artists pretty much non-stop for the better part of a year. Their work, when you look at it over the three-plus decades they have been collaborating, has steadily evolved. In a way, their evolutionary arc is predictably unpredictable. I have seen a couple of projects that are coming from them soon and both of those also have elements of the previous bodies of work. One current project, a tarot deck, which was conceived in equal parts by both artists (though primarily illustrated by Nicholas) feels inspired to me. To see all the people we turned on to that deck be instantly won over by the thorough re-invention of something so familiar was pretty exciting. The amount of work that went into the tarot project is plainly evident and it is landing at almost the same time as 100 Views of the Drowning World came out. The exhibition which we mounted at Candela to celebrate the release of the new book, included probably 150 paintings, drawings, posters, photographs. It was intense really, and an ambitious installation. When you realize how much work these two artists have accomplished together it dawns on you, at some point, that this level of output just isn't normal.
And there is more in the works from them which I won't get in to. I cannot emphasize how impressive these two artists are. But with all of the praise for their creativity and output, another distinction I'll put out there is that they are completely grounded, though not quite regular, people. These two are drawing their inspiration from a deep appreciation for art history and world history, and their work has a lot to say about politics and the environment and is meant to be taken seriously. Yet, their method of collaboration and seasoned friendship allows for humor and surprise. In an art world that often feels too self-important, these two come off as unbridled and refreshingly unprecious. They are makers essentially. Kinetic makers. I feel that their collected works, like the artists, are both rare and compelling. It has been a privilege working with them.
Install shots: 100 Views of the Drowning World by Kahn & Selesnick at Candela Gallery
100 Views of the Drowning World by Kahn & Selesnick
Specifications: Unbound w/ Slip Case Dimensions: 8.5 x 11 inches, 208 pages ISBN 978-0-9845739-6-7
Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick are a collaborative artist team who have been working together since they met while attending art school at Washington University in St. Louis in the early 1980s. Both were born in 1964, in New York City and London respectively. They work primarily in the fields of photography and installation art, specializing in fictitious histories set in the past or future. Kahn & Selesnick have participated in over 100 solo and group exhibitions worldwide and have work in over 20 collections, including the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Houston Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Institution.
In addition, they have published 3 books with Aperture Books, Scotlandfuturebog, City of Salt, and Apollo Prophecies.