MEXICO CITY.- A temporary museum housing more than 50 large-scale photographic artworks and 3 accompanying 35mm artistic films by Gregory Colbert will transformed Mexico City's Zócalo into a timeless realm in which the boundaries between humans and animals disappear.
The exhibition, Ashes and Snow, was on display from January 19 through April 27, 2008. It was presented in the Nomadic Museum, the permanent traveling home of the project. This collection is joined by photographic artworks and films from recent expeditions to comprise the work on display, so that the show itself, along with the architecture, evolves as it travels.
The Mexico City exhibit marked the fifth installation of Ashes and Snow, Colbert's sixteen-year personal and artistic odyssey. The exhibition has been on display in Venice, New York City, Los Angeles, and Tokyo. To date, the artist has completed more than forty extensive international expeditions to places as diverse as India, Egypt, Burma, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Ethiopia, Namibia, Tonga, the Azores, Antarctica, and Borneo to explore the natural interaction between man and animal. A devoted group of private collectors has made it possible for Colbert to photograph many of the totemic animals that touch our spirit-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 nature. Ashes and Snow is the shared memory of distant lands, peoples, and animals. 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 marry umber and sepia tones in a distinctive encaustic process on handmade Japanese paper. The artworks, each approximately 3.5 by 2.5 meters (11.5 by 8.25 feet), are mounted without explanatory text so as to encourage an open-ended interaction with the images. The films are not documentaries. They are poetic narratives that depict a world that is without beginning or end, here or there, past or present. The overall effect is an experience of wonder and contemplation, serenity, and hope.
When I started Ashes and Snow in 1992, I set out to explore the relationship between man and animals from the inside out. In discovering the shared language and poetic sensibilities of all animals, I am working towards restoring the common ground that once existed when people lived in harmony with animals, says Colbert.
Gregory Colbert originally conceived the idea for a sustainable traveling museum in 1999. He envisioned a sustainable structure that could easily be assembled in ports of call around the world, providing an ephemeral environment for Ashes and Snow on its global journey. The public debut of Ashes and Snow took place in 2002 at the Arsenale in Venice. Built in 1104, this monumental space inspired the architectural concepts of the Nomadic Museum.
The first of its kind, the Zócalo Nomadic Museum, designed by Colombian architect Simón Vélez, is composed primarily of bamboo and shipping containers, along with other recyclable and reusable materials. The building demonstrates sustainable practices and an innovative architectural approach. The Zócalo Nomadic Museum occupies 5,130-square meters (55,219-square-feet) containing two galleries and three distinct theatres. Inside, visitors access the two gallery sapces bordered on
either side by water-filled bays over which the unframed artworks are suspended between bamboo columns. Throughout, diaphanous handmade curtains made of one million pressed paper tea bags from Sri Lanka hang from the ceiling. Colbert's one-hour 35mm film, edited by two-time Academy Award-winner Pietro Scalia and narrated in Spanish by actor Enrique Rocha, is continuously projected on a large-format screen in a column-free central theater. Two short film haikus are shown at the end of each gallery.
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 films loosely reference the traveler's encounters and experiences described in
the letters, fragments of which comprise the narration in the films. Ashes and Snow: A Novel in Letters was first published in 2004. Additional venues are planned in South America, Asia, and Europe.
About the Artist
Canadian-born artist Gregory Colbert began his career in Paris making documentary films about social issues. Filmmaking led to his work as a fine arts photographer, and the first public exhibitions of his work were held in 1992 at the Musée de l'Elysée in Switzerland. In 2002, he launched the Ashes and Snow exhibition in Italy at the Venice Arsenale, a 12th-century shipyard. It was the largest solo exhibition ever mounted in Italy. The Venice exhibition featured images of Asian elephants, manatees, sperm and humpback whales, royal eagles, gyr falcons, Antigone cranes, sacred ibis, Harris hawks, and loggerhead tortoises. Subsequent exhibitions include works from his more recent collaborations with orangutans, jaguars, ocelots, elephant seals, cheetahs, leopards, caracals, zebras, elands, wild dogs, meerkats, and African elephants. Colbert continues his expeditions and the development of Ashes and Snow.
About the Architect
Colombian architect Simón Vélez was born in 1949. Over the course of his forty-year career, Vélez has emerged as one of the world's leading architects and the most eminent proponent of bamboo as an essential building component. Vélez has created joinery systems that utilize bamboo as a permanent structural element in both residential and commercial structures. His recent projects include the design of Crosswaters Ecolodge, the first ecotourism destination in China in the forests of Nankun Shan Mountain Reserve, in the Guangdong Province. It the largest project in the world to the use bamboo in a commercial project, and the first project of this scale in Asia to use bamboo as a structural element in a dwelling. The project received the 2006 American Society of Landscape Architects Analysis and Planning Award of Honor. To date, Vélez has designed bamboo buildings in Germany, France, the United States, Brazil, Mexico, China, Jamaica, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, and India.