NEW YORK, NY (August 17th, 2013) -- Last Rites Gallery presents Perfect Specimens, a solo exhibition by New York photographer and artist Mark Kessell. For Kessell, art is truly a matter of life and death. Kessell, who trained as a physician, has spent the last two decades interrogating our existence through works that focus closely on the human life cycle, a universal yet intensely personal issue. Perfect Specimens explores the fundamental processes of human becoming and unbecoming, documenting what he describes as a species portrait, a map of our existence from the first stirring of life to the final phase of post-mortem decay.
These eleven works, images of the not-quite-born and the not-entirely-dead, drawn from a total of thirty-nine in the series, represent specific moments in the cycle. Initially created as daguerreotypes - a historical photographic process known as much for its potentially lethal toxicity as for its weirdly reflective surface - these works now appear as large-scale prints that allow viewers to delve deeply into both the subject and themselves.
Kessell poses a simple question: "When does being human begin and end?" As the fetuses and dying faces of Perfect Specimens illustrate, the answer is elusive. For many, the issues are moral and ethical, but this artist's approach is purely analytical.
Despite its capacity to provoke complex and sometimes disturbing emotions, Perfect Specimens is not intended to shock. Instead, its forthright depiction of the human life cycle allows space for personal reflection, an acute awareness of a shared experience. It is a chronicle of the finite nature of life.
At times, Kessell has shown us that horror, from a certain dark perspective, can be a form of entertainment - we see this, for example, in his movie-poster image for Eli Roth's Hostel - but Perfect Specimens offers no such escape. In this artist's uncomfortable perception, the human animal lives its life without drama and without significance. We come. We go. We leave barely a trace.
From our tenuous beginning to our irrevocable end, Mark Kessell's lyrical but clear-eyed gaze shows us the triumphs and horrors of being human. He brings grace and beauty to the complex questions of our existence.
Opening reception: Saturday, August 17th from 7 - 11pm.
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