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Mars: Adrift on the Hourglass Sea, by Kahn & Selesnick

Photomanipulations illustrate a lonely planet

Often an ethereal satisfaction arises from the inexplicable. Kahn and Selesnick, the team of artists behind the surrealist landscapes of Mars: Adrift on the Hourglass Sea, reinterpret much of the visual language of vintage science fiction to entertain their own questions about life on earth and beyond it. 

The purported setting for these still, wordless dramas is the planet Mars. Abandoned technology litters the landscape that latex-coated humanoids explore. Stone listening and teleportation devices appear to be carved out of the planet itself, while other contraptions seem to be built from the same stuff as the faceless female figures. This Mars is a lonely planet, detached from a suggested future or alternate cosmology. 

But it does harbor a semblance of life, of survival. The figures struggle--to communicate, to discover, to give birth, to avoid death. Their monochrome coatings meld into each other in a simulation of biological symbiosis. They mate with squidlike beings only to produce mutant stillbirths. They find the corpses of astronauts preserved on the sand. 

Kahn and Selesnick created the images through combining their own desert photography with shots of Mars itself, borrowed from NASA. Many of the photographs correspond to actual locations on Mars, reacting to the way we as strangers have mapped and named a foreign world. The seamless photomanipulation engenders a palpable reality within the frames. A sadness permeates the imagery that provokes latent strands of the subconscious. This duo was not the first to render the passage of time as an alien landscape--the surrealists began to do so nearly a century ago--but they reinterpret the symbol so gracefully that it feels novel. 

We can understand ourselves as these figures stranded on a dead world, helpless under the hunger of time. The vaguely Bradburian imagery provides a fertile playing ground for fears of loss, abandonment and irrelevance. Kahn and Selesnick make the strong choice to build their Mars out of a future conceived in the 20th century, rather than the 21st. The simultaneous wonder and paranoia of incipient science fiction are expertly recultivated here into a poignant loneliness, a grasping against the speed of time. 

Kahn and Selesnick's elegantly wrought props and costumes deliver the aesthetic perfectly. Throughout the photographs I never once doubt their Mars, oxygenated as it may be. The duo is currently holding exhibitions of the various objects used in the photographs, but detached from their scenery the shapes do less. They are inextricably part of a new Mars, an alternate world where the dramas of the worlds inside us quietly play out. 

Mars: Adrift on the Hourglass Sea may be purchased online as a 12" x 12" hardcover through Blurb.com. Kahn and Selesnick are currently seeking an official publisher for the work. A full preview of the book may be viewed via Blurb, and many of its images are available in high resolutions on Kahn and Selesnick's blog