Circular River Project

Richard Selesnick and Nicholas Kahn's Circular River project (1998-99) is a fictive photodocumentary purporting to tell the story of a 1944 British "Royal Excavation Corps" expedition to Siberia in search of Peter Hesselbach, a downed German glider pilot. The project incorporates three mutually reinforcing elements: a series of 60 sepia-toned panoramic photographs of the expedition's travels to and within Siberia; Hesselbach's journal of his travails among the Buryat shamans around Lake Baikal in northeastern Siberia; and artefacts supposedly from the collection of the "Novosibirsk Museum of Ethnography" (possibly a stand-in for the actual Novosibirsk Regional Studies Museum).

Many of the photographs depict shamanic rituals and events of daily life in great detail, and it is the combination of peformative staging (for the sake of the photographs) and construction of elaborate props ranging from tools to shelters that places Circular River squarely in the field of fictive art. Also noteworthy is Kahn and Selesnick's attention to detail supporting the project's claim to be nonfiction: stains and creases on the photographs as if they had been much handled; archival stamps and handwritten annotations substantiating a back history for the documents; and a general fidelity to the World War II time frame in technology, clothing styles, etc.

Circular River has been instantiated both as a 7-foot-long (when open) book comprising the photographs and journal, and as a gallery exhibition. The pair also created a separate, earlier (1996) exhibition on the Royal Excavation Corps, using museum-style display cases to present documents and artefacts from a mix of fictive and real expeditions. Subsequent fictive artworks include Scotlandfuturebog (2000-02), set in a postapocalyptic future;  City of Salt (2001-05), which shows a shift from elaborated alternate history towards parable; and The Apollo Prophecies (2002-2006), which returns to the theme of aviation with a lost Edwardian expedition to the moon. A precursor to their later, fully fictive artwork was "The Rood-Loft of the Drunken Beekeeper," a full-scale chapel in oak wood with 120 painted panels.

Further information:
Richard Selesnick and Nicholas Kahn's web site