Exploring Humanity’s Collective Memory – Ashes & Snow

Sitting on an artificially created island, Odaiba is as much a symbol of Japan’s technological achievement as Ginza is the embodiment of luxury.

poster for Gregory Colbert

Gregory Colbert "Ashes and Snow"

at The Nomadic Museum in Odaiba
in the Odaiba, Kachidoki area
This event has ended - (2007-03-11 - 2007-06-24)

In Reviews by Ian Chun 2007-06-20

One of Tokyo’s numerous centers of entertainment, Odaiba is literally a floating world to which one escapes to for pleasure—just outside of Tokyo, just beyond reality. And so it is both ironic and fitting that Gregory Colbert’s exhibition finds itself erected at the entrance to this oasis of fantasy. “Ashes and Snow” is an idyll that seeks to evoke a collective memory of humanity’s marriage to nature rather than its domination of it. Simultaneously, it creates a bubble that manifests our innocent, perhaps fickle, desires for an older, simpler, more natural state of being.

Stepping into Shigeru Ban’s construct for the exhibition, one enters a sepia-toned temple; a solemn, monumental space in which a wooden walkway floating on a sea of crushed granite guides you through a hallway of enormous photographs. Hung between pillars that reach to the sky, the images depict a symbiotic, poetic relationship between humanity and nature that is at once foreign and familiar to most visitors because this is Tokyo and Japan—the epitome of urbanity removed from nature in a culture that celebrates the essence of nature’s beauty by artificially extracting it from its natural environment.

Despite the focus of the exhibition’s publicity on its documentary-like aspects—these are photographs and videos taken on his travels through more than forty countries and regions, images that have no been manipulated by digital technology, images exhibited in a “nomadic museum”—Colbert’s images are far from a documentation of human interactions with animals. Rather, the images are sculpted and arranged to suggest through form and tone a vision of cohabitation, an ideal in which humanity does not dominate the earth, but celebrates it together with its other residents.

The experience is religious and fantastic. Gazing upon images of an ideal from the darkness sparks the imagination to dream of adventures to an exotic, foreign world that is purer and more innocent than our own—an Eden from which we were banished, a paradise to which we aspire. In the darkness, we retreat into reverie, imagining ourselves as limber in the water as our brother whales, imagining ourselves conversing with the wisdom of elephants, imagining ourselves side by side with the dignity of the wild cat.
A journey to “Ashes and Snow” is a journey to a world beyond Tokyo—exotic, ideal, natural, foreign and fantastic.

Ian Chun

Ian Chun. Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Ian attained his BA at Brown U. and his Master's at Sophia U. Having spent his last ten years in Japan writing for various publications, then building products and brands for a Japanese manufacturer, Ian currently travels between Japan, Hawaii and New York as a freelance writer, translator and marketing consultant. His insights into Japan can be found on mlatte.com. » See other writings


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