Monday, February 13, 2006
Today's subject line is brought to you by the name of the facility housing curling at the Torino Winter Olympiad. Though it's hypnotic to watch, and I love it, curling is NOT a sport. So why is it at the Olympics? And watching it on USA Network (part of the NBC family of networks) isn't helping. Before the first commerical break the lead announcer already misspoke about a rule and the "sideline" reporter while giving her summar of an interview with the team's Skip, paraphrased his answer and included that he mentioned her by name. Final Fantasy Seven!!! [that's for you big mama ;)]
A group of us checked out the Ashes and Snow exhibit and installation at the Nomadic Museum temporarily housed in Santa Monica. Like any good museum this is something that makes the "space" as much a part of the lure as the art.
Designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, the "nomadic museum" is built of 152 steel shipping containers stacked 34 feet high, combined with recyclable materials and supported by 50-foot-ish columns of rolled paper. It's not-beautiful by any standard aesthetic--they're steel shipping containers complete with the burnt reddishness of corroded metal, but this re-purposed building rising from the parking lot of a tourist mecca (the Santa Monica Pier) is pretty amazing.
The exhibit, which costs $15 (worth it to me, but I wouldn't guess that everyone who visits feels that way), is presented in three long corridors. We walked into the first corridor, which is lit with small bright white lights about 50 feet overhead and the amberish glow from the sepia-toned images. There are about 50 images in the first corridor, which is very crowded. The people discomfort is exacerbated by the near-record high heat and extremely dry and still air of the museum's interior. [quick aside, a dude proposed to his girlfriend using a plane message right as we entered the musuem, meaning the plinky, plunky new age music was drowned out by the sound of a small twin-engine plane. Yay! nothing says examining the primal commonalities between humyn and animal than the roar of plane carrying a loser's proposal to his girlfriend.
The first images, which are displayed without frames and are mounted on/printed on a large (like a super jumbo large rectangular pizza box for reference) Japanese paper, are of people interacting with elephants. They are immediately striking as something so starkly contrasted with our day-to-day lives. The third image that I see is the one that I know will be my favorite. It's a girl and an elephant both sitting in a pond. All one can see of the baby elephant, which is on the left, is the top half of its head and its shoulder poking out of the water as it faces the girl. The girl is facing the elephant and has her right hand placed on the elephant's head between its eyes. She is leaning in to the elephant resting her head on the back of her hand. Her eyes are closed as if in prayer and her left hand is covering her heart. She's wearing a white peasanty dress.
I'm very moved by this image. I see in it an affirmation of the visceral power of touch. I recognize the obvious staging, but that does nothing to minimize its effect on me. Coincidentally I've been recalling an old episode of the Real World, like from way back maybe Boston but could be lots earlier, when it's pretty early into the season and one of the housemates is going through her crisis of the episode, and the other housemates aren't entirely sure what to do. Well, one of them, who was raised all religious and conservative and would later become a face-piercing rebellious image, rested her head on crisis girl's shoulder. In confessional later, crisis girl said that small gesture did more for her than anyone else's platitudes. This image of the girl praying with the elephant elicits in me a similar feeling about touch.
Many of the other images are very similar. We've got a bird spanning its wings behind a child's head, so that it looks like the child is angel-like with wings; an orangutan draping its arm across an apparelty sleeping-looking child's body as if in protection; a falcon flying through a church as exotically dressed natives of a foreign country dance beneath it; elephants in ponds with people facing them reverently. Oddly, though, no people in the stills have their eyes open. I think that Colbert was trying to say that people are objects or perhaps are soulless compared to animals. But when watching his film, there are two sequences in which the participants have their eyes open. The sense of peace and awe and appreciation conveyed in those instances was far stronger than most of the images. I think overall, his work would be stronger if it allowed this emotional awareness to surface. For another person's opinion, more critical, check this out. I don't disagree with the idea this writer expresses in many instances, but I am not soooo strongly feeling as he is.
That criticism being said, I still very much enjoyed the show. That he was able to capture these images without Photoshop is pretty impressive even if they're choreographed and he's got bigtime financial backing. The criticism article above notes that he the chairman of Rolex bought an entire show of his once. (I'm sort of experiencing a deja vu right now.) The most amazing feat in the show is a sequence in the video of him swimming underwater with a sperm whale. First off, he's got no breathing apparatus. But the really cool thing is that this is much more spontaneous. The other portraits have some very great animal close-ups and i think by not including people's eyes, it's easier for the person examining the photos to imagine him/herself in the place of the subjects, but to me the best portraits capture emotion. And by forcing his subjects to participate without having open eyes the pictures are oddly in a retrospectively unsettling way sorta emtpy.
Of course, for me a part of that is also because I enjoy any art attraction that brings in the peeps. It helps renew my faith in humanity.
Quickie bits: It's 100 choreographed images and some video of people interacting with animals (Elephants, Orangutans, Meerkats, Falcons, Cheetahs, Whales and a few others) from Canadian artist Gregory Colbert (i wonder whether he pronounces it like Colb-air or Col-bert and Ernie). All the images are sepia toned, which not unexpectedly gets a bit tired.
But overall, I'd give it a B, which is influenced by the sheer coolness of the structure.
Posted by Mike at 12:03 AM