A temporary museum housing more than 100 large-scale photographs, a 35-millimeter film showing, and a novel in letters opened Saturday, January 14th, transforming the sand alongside the Santa Monica Pier into a world of interaction between wild animals and humans.
The exhibit, Ashes and Snow, by artist Gregory Colbert, will be on display through Sunday, May 14th, in the Nomadic Museum, a 56,000-square-foot temporary structure designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban. It is a first-of-its-kind building constructed by using shipping containers for walls and paper tubing for the roof.
“This is a living exhibit in a living museum,” Colbert said.
Colbert, a Canadian, began his career making documentary films in Paris before switching gears to fine art photography.
Ashes and Snow is an ongoing project. Colbert has spent the past 14 years traveling to more than 30 exotic locations to photograph unscripted interactions between humans and animals in natural environments.
He plans to travel to more parts of the world and photograph other types of animals.
Fourteen animal species were photographed for the Santa Monica exhibit, including elephants, whales, manatees, and eagles.
Images include two monks rowing a boat between elephants emerging from the water, and a dancer in movement as an eagle flies past her.
The photographs mix umber and sepia tones and are on handmade Japanese paper.
They record what Colbert saw through his camera lens and have not been collaged or superimposed.
Colbert grew up in the Canadian countryside, where various wild animals passed through his family’s property and he says animals are “nature’s living masterpieces.”
His first photograph of an animal was of the family’s pet dog.
“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,” Colbert said. “The images depict a world that is without beginning or end, here or there, past or present.”
In 34 worldwide expeditions, Colbert has photographed humans and animals in India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Dominica, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tonga, Namibia, and Antarctica, among other places.
Ashes and Snow first opened in 2002 at the Arsenale in Venice, Italy and last year in New York City on the Hudson River Park Pier 54.
Ban debuted his Nomadic Museum for the New York City exhibit.
To create rigid walls, 152 shipping containers are stacked in a checkerboard pattern. The roof is made of paper tubes that rest on paper tube columns.
The structure is designed to be taken apart, with all paper tubes, bolts, and other materials stored inside eight storage containers, then rebuilt at the exhibit’s next location.
The remaining storage containers are borrowed from the exhibit’s new location.
Ban designed the Japanese Pavilion in Hanover, Germany, the Paper Tube Arch at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Paper Art Museum and Paper Church in Japan.
He also created paper shelters for refugees in Rwanda and for earthquake victims in Japan, Turkey, and India.
For tsunami victims, Ban built houses made of earth blocks in Sri Lanka.
Ban and his team at Shigeru Ban Architects were finalists in the competition to build a new World Trade Center in New York.
Colbert approached Ban in 1999 about creating the Nomadic Museum for Ashes and Snow.
“I hope the Nomadic Museum creates an unforgettable experience, demonstrating unique architectural concepts and sustainable practices with a postindustrial feel,” Ban said.
“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.”
Santa Monica was chosen for the West Coast debut of the exhibit because the city’s beach, its pier, its commitment to the arts, and its environmentally friendly policies are internationally recognized, Colbert said.
“We are pleased to be working with the Ashes and Snow team to bring this incredible and important exhibit to the public,” said Misti Kerns, president and chief executive officer of the Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“Ashes and Snow dovetails perfectly with Santa Monica’s artistically dynamic culture and care for our environment,” Kerns said.
The exhibit supports the work of the Flying Elephants Foundation, a United States-based nonprofit organization that aims to promote environmental, social, and cultural issues through all forms of art.
The artworks hang from the roof by strings and come without text to explain the images because Colbert wants people to have their own ideas about the content.
“How Ashes and Snow unfolds will be decided in large part by my animal collaborators,” Colbert said.
“I have tried to leave the windows and doors open so that others can enter in and feel that same amazement that I felt during each work’s creation.”
Admission to the exhibit is $15 for adults, $12 for seniors with identification, $12 for Santa Monica residents with identification, $10 for students with identification, and free for children under age six.
Group and education rates are available.
Exhibit hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 7 p.m. Sunday. Mondays are reserved for groups that make prior arrangements.
The Santa Monica Pier is at the end of Colorado Avenue, Santa Monica.