Mori Art Museum

by Stefan Chiarantano, Mar 16, 2007 | Destinations: Japan


My hats off to the Mori Art Museum for presenting the works of Canadian artist Gregory Colbert.  The show filled me with a sense of wonder and awe.  His haunting beautiful images are mesmerizing.  There are no written descriptions and credits accompanying his photographs or films. He lets the works speak for themselves.  There's no commentary to get in the way.  It's just you and the artwork. I found this approach very refreshing.

Here's the description of the show:

Animal Totems:  A Prelude to Ashes and Snow consists of large-scale photographic artworks and short films by Canadian artist Gregory Colbert.  These images capture extraordinary moments of contact between man and animal, evoking a timeless realm win which animals communicate and co-exist with humans.  None of the images has been digitally collaged or superimposed.  They record what the artist himself saw through the lens of his camera.  Ashes and snow was first revealed to the public at the Arsenale in Venice, Italy in 2002.  In March 2005, Ashes and Snow opened in New York city in the Nomadic Museum, a permanent travelling structure for the exhibition designed b renowed architect Shigeru Ban.  The museum was reassembled in Santa Monica, California in January 2006.  The exhibition will be on display at the Nomadic Museum in Odaiba, Tokyo from March 11 through June 24, 2007.  Animal Totems presents, for the first time in Japan, a special selection of works as a prelude to Ashes and Snow.

There's a scale model of the museum on display (Nomadic Museum New York (2004) Study Model S=1/200), Nomadic Museum Concept Sketches, and Nomadic Museum Partial Study Model S=1/50.  There's a time lapsed film of its construction and deconstruction.  There's also a Web cam in Real Time of the construction of The Nomadic Museum at Odaiba, which judging from the information given has already opened on March 11, 2007. 

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The galleries featuring his works and short films are dimly lit.  There are spotlights on the photographs, which measure 214.36 X 314.42 cm. 

Here are some descriptions of some of his works.

There's a portrait photograph of a young boy reading a book.  He is seated across from a kneeling female elephant who has her trunk wrapped around her front feet.

There's a portrait photograph of a female elephant.  On each side of the elephant, there's a young girl.  One is cusping her right ear and the other her left ear.

There's a side portrait of a female elephant and a striking girl.  She has laid her right hand on the elephant's head and is resting her head on her hand.  Her other hand is touching her heart. They are partially submerged in water.

There's a portrait photograph of two female elephants. One has her trunk raised in the air.  They are both lounging on the ground.  There are three young teenagers sitting across from the two elephants.  The young boy is reading.  The girl behind him is resting her head on his upper back. And the other girl is resting her head on the girl's upper back.  They are barefoot.  They are immaculately groomed.

There's another portrait photograph of a female elephant.  Her trunk is hovering above a pot.  In the mid-ground, there's a young boy.  His arms are crossed against his chest.  His eyes are closed.   Two girls are walking in the opposite direction of the boy.

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His short films are visually beautiful and mesmerizing.  They are sepia toned.  As mentioned, there are no credits.  The short film in Gallery 8 opens with a child asleep on a river boat.  Perched behind her on the rim of the boat is an exotic looking bird.  The film is narrated in Japanese by the actor Ken Watanabe.  The soundtrack is beautiful.  There's a sense of harmony, movement and connection between people and animals.  The scenes are lush and evocative.  There's a scene of a baboon licking off the droplets of water from a beautiful woman's arm as they cruise on a river boat down a river. 

The second film is narrated in English.  There's a mantra that is recited in the second film that is hypnotising.  Here it is:

Feather to fire
Fire to blood
Blood to bone
Bone to marrow
Marrow to ashes
Ashes to snow.

This film is as beautiful and surreal as the first.  It features three generations of African women communing with a pride of cheetahs and another exotic cat, which has pointed feathered ears and a short tail, somewhere in the desert.  Sometimes, they sit together.  Sometimes, they are sitting alone.

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The last gallery features stills from the second film and other large format photographs.

There's a portrait of a young boy standing.  He resembles a monk.  His head is shaven.  He's wearing robes.  His eyes are closed.  Just behind him are a set of wings, which seem to belong to him.
There's a young man reading and touching the hand of a female baboon.  The baboon's infant is clutching her right hand.

There's another portrait photograph of a very young woman dressed in white.  She's wearing a white head scarf.  She is holding a feather in her left hand.  A bird of prey is flying just above her head.  She's standing in a corridor of pillars.

There's a photograph of a young boy.  His eyes are closed.  He has his right ear cocked to a white seashell that lies before him.  He resembles a monk.

There's another photograph of a young boy and a young man.  They are asleep.  Their heads are touching. The light falls on their faces. 

There's a photograph of a man swimming with a whale.  It's so surreal.

There's a photograph of a mother and her daughter sitting amongst two cheetahs.  The mother has her face turned towards the cheetah.  The cheetah has her face turned toward the camera.  The little girl's eyes are closed.  The other cheetah is lounging on the sand dune.

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When I left the exhibit, I wondered why his works haven't been exhibited in Canada.  What a pity!  Canadians would rejoice at seeing his timeless art works.  In this world of global warming, globalization, terrorism, armed conflict, pandemics, his work offers a respite from it all.  His images are incredibly healing and icons to another world evoking a lost paradise.  The show spotlights very special people with the innate ability to commune with animals.  I would love to learn more about these special people and also, the photographer and how he came to photograph these beautiful images. 

I highly recommend seeing his work.

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