» Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]


 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]


 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum

November 30, 2006
My wife and I were waiting in line to try and grab a meal in Santa Monica's "Real Food Daily" when a friend introduced us to one of the patrons, in the midst of enjoying a meal of salad and brown rice sushi, over at a corner table. Upon introduction the customer, who happened to be a producer at the local KPFK public radio station and somewhat of an expert on community events, politely asked what had brought us into town that particular weekend. My wife and I looked at each other sheepishly. I explained it was a weekend getaway, before I finally confessed that we were there not only to see a mutual friend, but that we were going to pay tribute to a celebrity art opening and book signing at Track 16 Studios, in nearby Bergamot Station. (The artist was Viggo Mortensen; a.k.a. Aragorn, from Lord of the Rings fame.)

"Oh," the producer said with a non-judgmental tone, "he's there all the time. But while you are visiting you should really go and see the Ashes and Snow exhibit at the Nomadic Museum, down by the pier. It's amazing and easy to get tickets."

After waiting most of day at Track 16 to meet my beloved celebrity hero, I found Mortensen's photographs were quite compelling in a "modern art and meets mother earth" sort of way. After a cordial handshake and several verbal accolades with the humble star, we left with our books signed and our paparazzi pictures digitized. I was feeling quite satisfied and appreciative of my wife, who like hundreds of other swooning women played along pretending that the visit was her idea in order to dispel, on behalf of my fragile male ego, any notions that I might be a celebrity stalker. On our way out of town, she reminded me about attending Ashes and Snow as we drove past the beach on our way toward Topanga Canyon. Somewhat tired and deflated, I asked her if she really wanted to go.

"I'd like to see it, but I guess I can always make another trip back, it's here until May," she said accomodatingly, but with a hint at her sacrifice earlier that day barely audible in her tone. That was it. I turned the car around on Highway One and, after finding the pier parking lot full, parked in one of the hotel garages nearby.

The crowds were heavy as we shuffled down to the parking area, before reaching the wooden boardwalk and then the roller coaster and Ferris wheel beyond. Then, suddenly, there it was on the sand, a towering structure resembling an industrial style circus tent looming before us. Standing in queue in front of the box office I realized for the first time that the Nomadic Museum, fresh off the boat after stops in Italy and New York, was constructed almost completely out of crude metal shipping containers stacked atop each other, several stories tall, in efficient checkerboard fashion. The colossal pile of industrial rectangles consists of one hundred and fifty-two steel containers, to be exact, and stands thirty-four feet high. The openings between the containers are secured with jute and diagonal fiber. At its peak the roof measured 56 feet.

As matter of fact, the entire cathedral-like structure was composed almost completely out of recycled materials, which included a system of enormous cardboard tubes, each about 2.5 feet in diameter, and a series of smaller trusses made out of paper rolls, all towering high into the air. From the distant ceiling, long wires supported large sepia-colored rectangular images, bound upon hand-made Japanese paper and dangling in the air.

A gallery of images seemed to levitate on each side of three long hallways, each with a huge motion picture screen positioned at the end. The slow moving motion pictures were similar to the still images I had carefully sauntered past, but different in terms of angle and perspective. The whole installation seemed bathed in an earthy umber of reddish-brown light, reflecting off the captivating images, composed entirely of humans and exotic wild animals delicately interacting.

A palpable air of mystery hung like a cloud over the entire building. The shuddering edges of the roof mixed with the ambient soundtrack of the films and melded with the wind, surf and rumble of distant traffic into a muffled cacophony of sound. Illuminated creatures, fierce and dangerous, were juxtaposed by simply clothed native peoples peacefully resting amongst them; gigantic elephants, illusive elands, cheetahs and African wild dogs. These illuminated creatures, some fierce and dangerous, others eloquent and docile, were starkly offset by natives in modest attire and scores of red cloaked Buddhist monks.

Among the most enticing of these displayed images was a group of cheetahs surrounding and touching foreheads with a tribal African youth, and another of a young boy sleeping atop an Asian Elephant reclining in the whirlpools of a passing stream, and yet another of a young woman perched in a tree and reading a book as a group of inquisitive orangutans looked on. (Talk about being out on a limb!)

One major unifying thread for artist Gregory Colbert's lifelong cinematic work is the method of documentation itself; a large portion of his spellbinding footage was shot from aboard and alongside a dugout canoe floating effortlessly across a composite backdrop of rippling water. For Colbert, whom I had the chance to speak with briefly, water serves as his overarching metaphor and offers both life-giving and aesthetic qualities for his subjects, animals and humans alike.

When asked if any of the motion film images used were enlargements of his surrealistic stills, Colbert clarified that they were not. "Each still was taken separately from any of the motion capture work," he said and, when pressed about the sepia tones of the images summarized the methods for creating his timeless photojournalistic as "a highly technical and complicated process, which I can promise you is completely and utterly boring." While the process may just be mechanics for the artist, Colbert's finished work, with its numerous references to muscular and facial anatomy, is anything but uninteresting. There are clear sensibilities of unity in his images, an idealized testament to the idea that the separation of animals and humans is slight and artificial at best.

Ashes and Snow will stick with you a lot longer than the title of the exhibit seems to suggest. The name is pulled from one of Colbert's other projects, an anthology of imaginary letters written by a fictional photojournalist to his estranged wife. The companion book, which was for sale at the exhibit, is also available at the exhibit's official website along with posters and CDs of Colbert's work.

In retrospect, all the animals that the artist depicts, be they bird or mammal, are no more or no less intriguing, graceful, or intelligent than the humans who capture, tame, and observe them. For Colbert, our world of written language, high fashion and state-of-the-art technology could never be as interesting or thought provoking as the elements of shadow and light, earth and water, gravity and sky to which all living things are bound.

SEE ALSO: www.ashesandsnow.org

Hugh Slesinger
A teacher, naturalist and eco-conscious real estate agent living in Occidental, California, Hugh Slesinger occasionally publishes his insights on life with LAS.

See other articles by Hugh Slesinger.



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