Santa Monica, California (October 3, 2005)—A temporary museum of 152 shipping containers will house more than one hundred large-scale photographic works and an accompanying 35mm film by artist Gregory Colbert. The show opens January 14, 2006 and transforms an area adjacent to Santa Monica’s historic pier into a timeless realm in which wild animals co-exist with humans.
The exhibition, Ashes and Snow, will be displayed through May 14, 2006, in the Nomadic Museum, a 56,000-square-foot temporary structure designed by renowned architect Shigeru Ban. The first of its kind, the Nomadic Museum building is composed largely of recyclable and reusable materials demonstrating sustainable practices and an innovative architectural approach.
The Santa Monica opening marks the third incarnation of Ashes and Snow, Colbert’s fourteen-year long personal and artistic odyssey. To date, the artist has completed more than thirty extensive international expeditions to places as diverse as India, Egypt, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Ethiopia, Namibia, Tonga, the Azores, Antarctica, and Borneo. Colbert states: “When I started Ashes and Snow in 1992, I set out to explore the relationship between man and animals from the inside out.”
Colbert, who calls animals “nature’s living masterpieces,” captures extraordinary moments of contact between man and animal. It is the interaction of distant lands, peoples, and creatures that emerges, like vivid memories of a shared experience. None of the images have been digitally collaged or superimposed. They record what the artist himself saw through the lens of his camera. These mixed media photographic works (5x8 feet) marry umber and sepia tones in a distinctive encaustic process on handmade Japanese paper. The artworks (each approximately five feet by eight feet) are mounted without explanatory text so as to encourage an open-ended interaction with the images.
The Nomadic Museum building is designed by famed architect Shigeru Ban and is composed of 152 steel cargo containers stacked and secured in a checkerboard pattern to create rigid walls. The structure of the roof trusses is partially constructed of paper tubes that rest on two-and-a-half-foot paper tube columns. Designed for easy assembly and disassembly, the entire exhibition will be packed into eight containers as it travels from place to place. The remaining 144 containers will not be transported but rather borrowed at each new location.
“I hope the Nomadic Museum creates an unforgettable experience, demonstrating unique architectural concepts and sustainable practices with a post-industrial feel,” says Ban. “I believe the building successfully frames a context for viewing the work of Gregory Colbert, which in my mind poetically integrates man’s interaction with nature at its most spiritual level.”
The title Ashes and Snow suggests beauty and renewal, while also referring to the literary component of the exhibition—a fictional account of a man who, over the course of a yearlong journey, composes 365 letters to his wife. The source of the title is revealed in the 365th letter. Colbert’s photographs and one-hour film loosely reference the traveler’s encounters and experiences described in the letters. Ashes and Snow: A Novel in Letters was first published in 2004. Colbert’s one-hour 35mm film, edited by two-time Academy Award-winner Pietro Scalia and narrated by actor Laurence Fishburne, is continuously projected on a large-format screen in a column-free theater under a tensile roof supported by bracket beams.
Ashes and Snow garnered international acclaim at its Venice debut in 2002. In March-June of 2005, more than 300,000 visitors attended the second incarnation of the exhibition at New York’s famed Pier 54 on the Hudson River. Additional venues are planned for the United States, South America, Europe, and Asia.