The de Menil Gallery Archive

Past Exhibits

List of 40 items.

The Carnival at the End of the World

Photographs by Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick
January 9–March 3, 2020

Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick work primarily in the fields of photography and installation art, specializing in fictitious histories set in the past or future. Their winter exhibit features a fictitious cabaret troupe, the Truppe Fledermaus, who travel the countryside staging absurd and inscrutable performances in the abandoned landscapes beyond the town’s edge. To create this Theater of Memory, the Truppe are as apt to commemorate the passing of an unusual cloud as they are to be found documenting their own attempts to flee the rising waters of a warming planet, or using black humor to comment upon the mass extinction of bats and other animals.

The original Theater of Memory, as conceived by Italian philosopher Giulio Camillo, reduces the audience of the drama to a single member, using the performance taking place there as a mnemonic device to deconstruct the world around us. In addition to using this concept to address ecological themes, Kahn and Selesnick use it as a metaphor for how seemingly inexhaustible quantities of information are disseminated to us in the modern world. Apocalyptic weather is documented to the point of extinction; we are bombarded by endless images of our own virtual lives, constantly rebroadcast to us over our various devices. The artists present their own version of this pictorial feed in the form of "100 views of the Drowning World," a play on Japanese Ukiyo-e prints, in which the central concept, of a floating world of pleasure and beauty, is inverted to become one that is in fact sinking into the marsh, a place where there are no famous scenes or actors, and one viewpoint becomes interchangeable with any other.
The Truppe travel on, performing for nobody, advertising their performances through posters and handbills—performances that never happened, an endless preview reel for a mock-life that never was, for a film that does not exist. Within this nonexistent documentary, the viewer might glimpse of the collaborators' working life and neuroses,—all presented as an incomplete novel-in-progress, perhaps found in the attic of the Memory Theater itself.

Kahn and Selesnick have been working together since they attended art school at Washington University in St. Louis in the early 1980s. They have participated in more than one hundred exhibitions worldwide and have work in more than twenty collections, including at 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 four books, Scotlandfuturebog, City of Salt, Apollo Prophecies, and 100 Views of the Drowning World.