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Mystery Building On Bearch To Open: Photos by Margaret Molloy

All the people who ve watched the construction of the curious structure in the parking lot north of Santa Monica Pier, and wondered about it, will be able to enter it and see for themselves what it s all about on Saturday, January 14, when it opens. A temporary gallery, the Nomadic Museum houses Ashes and Snow,  an exhibit of more than 100 large-scale photographic works and a a 35mm films by artist Gregory Colbert. The exhibition will be on display through May 14 in the 56,000-square-foot temporary structure, which was designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban. The first of its kind, the building is composed largely of recyclable and reusable materials used shipping containers for the walls and paper tubing for the roof and columns. The exhibition is directed by environmentalist Paul Hawken, and a grant from Rolex SA has made it possible to preserve the body of work that was first shown at the Venice Arsenale in 2002. As the exhibit evolves as it travels, photographic artworks and film images from Colbert s recent expeditions have been added for the Santa Monica opening. This is the third incarnation of Colbert s 14-year personal and artistic odyssey. To date, the artist has made more than 30 international expeditions to places as diverse as India, Egypt, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Ethiopia, Namibia, Tonga, the Azores, Antarctica, and Borneo to explore the natural interaction between man and animal, photographing elephants, whales, manatees, eagles, and other animals in their own environments and on their own terms. Believing that animals are nature s living masterpieces,  Colbert seeks to capture moments of contact between man and animal on film. A young boy kneels in a riverbed, holding a horn that apes the arch of the elephant s trunk above him . The artist himself, diving without oxygen tanks, next to a 55-ton sperm whale, engages in an underwater dance. Two monks glide toward a far horizon in a narrow boat, steering a course between two giant elephants emerging from the water. In another series, the artist follows the rhythmic movements of a dancer as a royal eagle in flight grazes her body. None of the images have been digitally collaged or superimposed. They record what the artist himself saw through the lens of his camera. These photographic works marry umber and sepia tones in a distinctive encaustic process on handmade Japanese paper, measure approximately 5 feet by 8 feet and are mounted without explanatory text so as to give full play to the viewer s imagination. In exploring the shared language and poetic sensibilities of all animals, I am working towards rediscovering the common ground that once existed when people lived in harmony with animals,  Colbert said. The images depict a world that is without beginning or end, here or there, past or present. I hope the overall effect is an experience of wonder and contemplation, serenity and hope.  Colbert went on to say, I believe the Australian Aboriginals were exploring the same enchantments when they painted animals; they were not interested in merely painting the contours of their bodies. They focused equally on the animal s interior dream life. The cave paintings of the San from the Kalahari Desert in Africa and the art of other indigenous tribes around the world, also demonstrate their ability to look from the inside out. When I started Ashes and Snow in  1992, I set out to explore the relationship between man and animals from the inside out.  The Nomadic Museum is composed of 152 steel cargo containers, stacked and secured in a checkerboard pattern to create rigid walls. The roof trusses are partially constructed of paper tubes that rest on two-and-a-half-foot paper tube columns. Designed for easy assembly and disassembly, the entire exhibition can be packed into eight containers. as it travels from place to place. Visitors enter the gallery space via a central wooden walkway bordered on either side by stone-filled bays over which the unframed artworks are hung from thin cables and suspension rods installed between the columns. A diaphanous handmade curtain made of one million pressed paper tea bags from Sri Lanka is suspended from the ceiling, floating forty feet above the floor. Colbert s one-hour 35mm film, edited by two-time Academy Award-winner Pietro Scalia and narrated by actor Laurence Fishburne, is continuously projected on a large-format screen in a column-free theater under a tensile roof supported by bracket beams. David Gensler and Irwin Miller of Gensler were associate architects on the project. Exhibition designer was Ombra Bruno of Officina di Architettura Milan, and the lighting designer was Alessandro Arena of Catania. The exhibit also has a literary component a fictional account of a man who, over the course of a yearlong journey, composes 365 letters to his wife. Colbert s photographs and film contain loose references to the traveler s encounters and experiences. Ashes and Snow: A Novel in Letters was published in 2004. The Ashes and Snow  exhibition won international acclaim at its Venice debut. Between March and June last year, more than 300,000 visitors attended the second incarnation of the exhibition at New York s Pier 54 on the Hudson River. Canadian-born artist Gregory Colbert began his career in Paris making documentary films. That led to his work as a fine arts photographer, and the first public exhibitions of his work were held in 1992 at the Musée de l Elysée in Switzerland and the Parco Galleries in Japan. The exhibition hours are Tuesday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday, noon to 7 p.m.; Monday, open for groups by arrangement. Admission is $15 for adults, $12 seniors with ID and Santa Monica residents, $10 for students with ID, free for children 6 and under. Tickets are available at www.ticketweb.com or (866) 468-7619 and the Ashes and Snow  box office at the Nomadic Museum during regular exhibition hours.

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