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Ashes and snow displayed in The Nomadic Museum
Gregory Colbert, Ashes and snow.


NEW YORK.- An historic pier on Manhattan’s west side will be transformed with the spring 2005 opening of a temporary museum housing more than 200 large-scale photographic artworks and an accompanying 35mm film by artist Gregory Colbert. The exhibition, Ashes and snow, will be on view from March 5 to June 6, 2005 and illuminates Colbert’s vision of a timeless realm in which wild animals communicate and coexist with humans.

Ashes and snow will be displayed in The Nomadic Museum, a 45,000-square-foot temporary structure designed by renowned architect Shigeru Ban and hosted by the Hudson River Park’s Pier 54, between 12th and 13th Streets in New York City. The first of its kind in the world, the Nomadic Museum building is composed largely of recyclable and reusable materials—used shipping containers for the walls and paper tubing for the roof and columns—demonstrating sustainable practices and an innovative architectural approach within a post-industrial environment. The museum will provide a transitory environment that evokes the journey of the exhibition.

Ashes and snow is organized by the Bianimale Foundation, a non-profit arts and nature conservation organization based in the United States. The corporate patronage of Rolex SA has made it possible to preserve the body of work as shown in 2002 at the Venice Arsenale.

The New York opening marks the U.S. premiere of Ashes and snow, Colbert’s 13-year personal and artistic odyssey. To date, the artist has completed more than 30 extensive international expeditions to places as diverse as India, Egypt, Burma, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Ethiopia, Namibia, Tonga, the Azores Islands, and Antarctica to explore the natural interaction between man and animal. A devoted group of private collectors has made it possible for Colbert to patiently photograph elephants, whales, manatees, eagles, and other animals in their own environments and on their own terms.

Colbert, who calls animals “nature’s living masterpieces,” captures extraordinary moments of contact between man and animal. He explores distant lands, diverse cultures, and archetypal creatures that somehow feel familiar and accessible, like vivid memories of a shared experience—from a young boy kneeling in a riverbed, holding a horn that mirrors the arch of the elephant’s trunk above him, to the artist himself, diving without oxygen tanks alongside a 55-ton sperm whale engaged in an underwater dance. In other images, two monks glide toward a far horizon inside a narrow boat, steering a course between two giant elephants just beginning to emerge from the waters beside them. In another series, the artist follows the rhythmic movements of a dancer spinning like a dervish as a royal eagle in flight grazes her body. None of the images have been digitally collaged or superimposed. These mixed media photographic artworks marry umber and sepia tones in a distinctive encaustic process on handmade Japanese paper. The artworks will be mounted without explanatory text so as to encourage an open-ended interaction with the images.

“In exploring the shared language and poetic sensibilities of all animals, I am working towards rediscovering the common ground that once existed when people lived in harmony with animals,” says Colbert. “The images depict a world that is without beginning or end, here or there, past or present. I hope the overall effect is an experience of wonder and contemplation, serenity and hope.”

“I believe the Australian Aboriginals were exploring the same enchanted waters,” Colbert adds. “When they painted animals they were not interested in painting merely the contours of their bodies. They focused equally on the animal’s interior dream life. The cave paintings of the San Bushmen from the Kalahari Desert in Africa, and the art of other indigenous tribes around the world, also demonstrate their ability to look from the inside out. So when I started Ashes and snow in 1992, I set out to explore the relationship between man and animals from the inside out.”

The perimeter of The Nomadic Museum building will be composed of 148 steel cargo containers, which are stacked and secured in a checkerboard pattern to create rigid walls. Designed to be easily disassembled and reconstructed, the entire museum will be packed and replaced in 37 containers as it travels from place to place. The remaining 113 containers will be temporarily borrowed at each new location. The structure of the roof trusses will be partially constructed of one-foot diameter paper tubes that will rest on two-and-a-half-foot paper tube columns and shipping containers.

Inside, visitors will enter the gallery space via a central wooden walkway bordered on either side by stone-filled bays over which the unframed artworks will be hung from thin cables and suspension rods installed between the columns. This threshold will establish a visual boundary between the physical space of the public walkway and the mystical domain of the images. Above, a diaphanous hand-made curtain made of one million pressed paper tea bags from Sri Lanka, will be suspended from the ceiling, floating approximately 40 feet above the floor. The center of the museum will feature a floating library, where, as pages of the artist’s books are turned, cameras will project the images on the walls. At the far end of the museum, a one-hour 35mm film by Colbert will be continuously projected on a wall in a column-free theater.

For Ashes and snow’s Nomadic Museum building, Shigeru Ban Architects, based in Tokyo, leads a distinguished design team that includes Dean Maltz Architect of New York (Associate Architect), Ombra Bruno of Milan (Interior Architect of the Exhibition Halls), Alessandro Arena of Catania (Lighting Designer), and Buro Happold of New York (Structural Engineer).

“I hope The Nomadic Museum will create an unforgettable experience, demonstrating unique architectural concepts and sustainable practices with a post-industrial feel,” says Ban. “I believe the building will successfully frame 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 the ideas of 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 origin 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. The first publication of Colbert’s letters, entitled Ashes and snow, along with a complete catalog of the show, will coincide with the opening of the exhibition in New York City.

“The Hudson River Park is so pleased to be able to host Ashes and snow,” said Charles “Trip” Dorkey, III, Chairman of the Hudson River Park Trust. “Hudson River Park’s Pier 54 is an ideal venue for the project, with the Odyssean tone of the exhibition recalling the pier’s original use as the home of the Cunard-White Star transcontinental ocean liner and the departure point for the Lusitania’s first voyage. The location on the majestic Hudson River presents the perfect setting to stage this unique exhibition, one that will contribute to the ongoing revitalization of the Hudson River waterfront.”

Ashes and snow garnered international acclaim at its Venice debut in 2002. From New York the exhibition plans to travel around the globe to such locations as Los Angeles, Beijing and Paris along with The Nomadic Museum building. Subsequent venues will be announced at a later date.





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