Ashes and Snow is not only a fantastic interactive website but also represents an ongoing project by Gregory Colbert, who has made more than forty expeditions to India, Egypt, Myanmar, Tonga, Sri Lanka, Namibia, Kenya, Antarctica, the Azores, Borneo, Belize, to and many other locations to photograph interactions between man and nature’s living masterpieces. Ashes and Snow, which consists of photographic artworks, films, and a novel in letters, 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 on the Hudson River Park’s Pier 54, and then to Santa Monica in 2006 and Tokyo in 2007.
Gregory Colbert, who calls animals “nature’s living masterpieces,” captures extraordinary moments of contact between man and nature. Ashes and Snow is the shared memory of distant lands, peoples, and animals. None of the images have been digitally collaged or superimposed. They record what the artist himself saw through the lens of his camera. These mixed media photographic works marry umber and sepia tones in a distinctive encaustic process on handmade Japanese paper. The artworks, each approximately 3.5 by 2.5 meters (11.5 x 8.25 feet), are mounted without explanatory text so as to encourage an open-ended interaction with the images. Ashes and Snow is not a documentary film. The films are poetic narratives that depict a world that is without beginning or end, here or there, past or present. The overall effect is an experience of wonder and contemplation, serenity, and hope.
The title Ashes and Snow suggests beauty and renewal, while also referring to the literary component of the exhibition—a fictional account of a man who, over the course of a yearlong journey, composes 365 letters to his wife. The source of the title is revealed in the 365th letter. Colbert’s photographs and films loosely reference the traveler’s encounters and experiences described in the letters, fragments of which comprise the narration in the films. Ashes and Snow: A Novel in Letters was first published in 2004.
Gregory Colbert originally conceived the idea for a sustainable traveling museum in 1999. He envisioned a sustainable structure that could easily be assembled in ports of call around the world, providing an ephemeral environment for Ashes and Snow on its global journey. The public debut of Ashes and Snow took place in 2002 at the Arsenale in Venice. Built in 1104, this monumental space inspired the architectural concepts of the Nomadic Museum, which debuted in New York in 2005. The first of its kind, the Zócalo Nomadic Museum, designed by Colombian architect Simón Vélez, is composed largely of recyclable and reusable materials – including shipping containers and bamboo – demonstrating sustainable practices and an innovative approach.
Like other elements of Ashes and Snow, the museum is an on-going project that will transform in each location to adapt to its environment and the evolving artistic content of the exhibition itself. Colbert will continue to collaborate with innovative architects to integrate the most recent advances in sustainable architecture and give new expression to the museum as it travels.
To date, more than a million and a half people have visited Ashes and Snow. The exhibition will travel indefinitely to ports of call around the world. The current exhibition, which consists of more than 50 large-scale photographic artworks, a 60-minute feature film will and two short film haikus be on display at the Zócalo Nomadic Museum in Mexico City, from December 15, 2007 through April 27, 2008.