One Rong View

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Ashes and Snow

Ashes and Snow is possibly one of the most exceptional curatorial efforts I've experienced.

Fred and I went to see the exhibition which is housed in the Nomadic Museum, currently at the Santa Monica Pier. It's a 56 000 sq ft temporary structure designed by renowned architect Shigeru Ban. The building itself is pretty cool: Functional, visually interesting and conceptually impressive. Things like that make me happy.

From the little I'd read about Ashes and Snow in the papers, I was expecting a large format photography show. You, know, on white walls and stuff, conventional gallery-show type presentation. I thought it was going to be all about the photographs.

Well, actually, it is about the photographs... you really have to see them for yourself.

The setup of this exhibition accomplishes what few installations can. It's like discovering this door and then wondering into an ethereal space that is part warehouse, part sacred enclave and then you feel it taking over your entire realm of consciousness.

Approaching the Nomedic Museum, I hear sound coming out from it and I think, "sounds like a convention or a Cirque du Soleil performance or something going on in there." Step into the building and you have to let your eyes adjust to the warm dimness. Then you realize that sound is part of the exhibition. I can only describe it as haunting. In what sense... probably depends on the individual experiencing it.

The context in which the audience is made to take in the photographic imagery is totally immersive. It just encompasses you and trasports you and you cannot help but be moved when you look at the photos because the imagery presented, is itself so strong.

As we walk I notice a large screen on the back wall. A small congregation of audience watches a film that looks like what the photographs might be if they were, well, on moving media rather than being stills. It's like watching life in slow mo. Then you realize, it is slow mo. Then you realize that it's quite untrite and very beautiful. The production quality is top notch.

The show transitions to the next space which is essentially a screening room domintated by an even larger screen with a bigger audience. That, with the imagery, I experienced vastness.

The footage was pretty amazing. Watching the whales and the solitary guy swimming, I wondered when the guy would finally go up for air... or when he'd begin to realize that he's in the middle of nowhere, in the ocean, with a bunch of humongus sperm whales and start panicking. Of course none of those things happened. That's not quite the point. Still, Fred and I wondered... hehe.

Silliness aside, it's very emotional in an understated sort of way. You really just watch in awe.

Being curious about what others might have gotten out of Ashes and Snow. I googled... and found this Amardeep guy's review which baffles me. Especially if this person is really an assistant English teacher as claims. Either it's a gag entry, which is impressively convincing, or Amardeep is more into the strictly technical sort of English.

I shall let the man behind the show have the last word.
“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. The images depict a world that is without beginning or end, here or there, past or present.”
—Gregory Colbert, Creator of Ashes and Snow


  • But I don't buy it, partly because of the blatant artificiality of the poses -- people don't just hang out with Cheetahs on stark desert plains. And they don't swim with elephants with their eyes closed, looking enraptured.
    --Quoted from Amardeep

    I'm guessing that Amardeep fellow isn't very good with poetry either. I can just see his critique of Blake:

    "Tiger, Tiger? What is this crap? Tiger's don't burn at all and certainly don't wander the forest at night. The blatant artificiallity of the imagery is really off-putting to me."

    What a useless mind that cannot open itself to the beauty of metaphor or abstract thought.

    By Anonymous fred, At 11:51 PM  

  • You guys clearly aren't following the gist of my post.

    I disliked the show for two reasons: 1) it treats the (mostly) brown people in the photos as exotic others in a way I find irritating and offensive (i.e., racist), and 2) its goal is to awe the viewer with pretty pictures rather than compel him or her to think about something that really exists in the world. There's nothing wrong with pretty pictures in and of itself, but it's not serious art. Colbert's talk of harmony between human beings and animals is an idle fantasy -- that's not the world we live in.

    By Blogger Amardeep, At 8:57 PM  

  • Wow, it's you!
    Thanks for the clarification, Amardeep. Still, I have to disagree with you. Respectfully of course.

    Think what needs to be said has been said. But just to add... Contrary to your comment that Ashes and Snow is merely a bunch of pretty pictures that serve only to awe, "rather than compel (viewers) to think about something that exist in the world," I think the piece was made with every intention of provoking thought and does so very successfully.

    A&S most definitely isn't about portraying the world we live in as it is. Rather, it's a conceptual piece.

    And surely, even you'd agree that animal-human relationship is somthing that does in fact exist. In that sense, A&S is not what one would call an "idle fantasy."

    Yes, A&S is a romanticised view of animal-human relationship. One may even say to the extreme. It is a visualization by the artist of notions of an idealised concept of animal-human relationships. The artist himself, makes no qualms about that.

    I suspect the point made about being "irratated and offended" by the hightened exoticism of "brown people" was made out of self-consciousness. Personally, as a foreigner living in America where popular percetions of my heritage and culture is more often than not, grossly misunderstood and misrepresented, I think it's safe for me to say I know where you're coming from. That being said, I think for the imagery in A&S to evoke offence... it has more to do with what the individual viewing it brings to the experience than what the pictures themselves depict.

    Art, like poetry, literature and many other meaningful human endeavours, require effort on the audience's part to be fully appreciated.

    It's ok that one might not appreciate certain pieces of art. I, for one, most certainly do not like every piece of art that I come across. What irks me most is how quickly A&S is relegated as "not serious art."

    I hate reading Chaucer, don't care for his work, never took the time to really understand them. However, I do not go around saying that the Canterbury Tales and stuff cannot be considered "serious" literature.

    By Blogger Rong, At 8:49 PM  

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