i rarely seem to make it to galleries these days (except for special performances/events like i wrote about at the cave gallery), but i had an inkling i should see the ashes and snow exhibit. all i knew was that it was some nice duotone photographs of a relatively serious-looking nature.
it turned out that the space it's being shown in, the nomadic museum, was built specifically for the show and will be taken down after june 6 once it's over. it was also built on pier 54. these added unusual elements helped make my decision to go into a certainty rather than a possibility which floated in the back of my head until it was too late. too often, museums and galleries are fairly sterile environments, their neutrality doing the work on display a disservice.
from the outside, it's fairly impressive, although seemingly incongruous with the anticipated photographs. the museum was constructed out of interlocking metal containers, much like boxcars, alternating in different styles and colors. unfortunately, photography wasn't allowed inside, and there were constantly ushers and security keeping an eye on the crowd and quietly asking people to move to the right and keep their cell phones off.
this last request confused me until i was inside. the structure's interior formed a long hallway, like something out of the emerald city. the lighting was much dimmer than the photo above (from new york architecture images). hidden in the upper reaches were speakers playing music that coincidentally reminded me of my dark ambient project a murder of angels. the photos were hung from the high ceilings by near-invisible wire, so as to seem suspended in the air. rectangular spotlights were trained on each print, which seemed to be somehow done on a surface akin to canvas. we had to walk down wooden planks in the center, because under the photographs hung on either side was a layer of clean grey-white stones that stretched several feet all the way to the walls. this had the effect of being in a zen rock garden without the flowers.
the pictures themselves were often of people deep in meditation with different wild animals. each type of animal was grouped in a series. all the locations were either in the desert or in water. the subjects were mostly either very young or very old, although there was a brief focus on a man and woman in their 20s or 30s.
i thought the most gorgeous and profound photos were those contrasting the tiny, smooth-skinned children with huge, rough beasts, especially the elephants. elephants being a symbol of memory, it seemed as though the inexperienced child was seeking knowledge from the wise creature, somehow communicating on a spiritual level. the photos with the young child and the very old woman struck a similar chord.
at the end of the hall was a theater, showing a film of the same scenes in the photographs, albeit from different angles. some sections were in slow motion. because of the movement and more obvious posing apparent in the film, i found it less affecting than the stills. even non-linear film such as this creates some degree of narrative by the simple fact of showing time passing and different actions taking place. this removes the viewer somewhat from the role of attempting to figure out what the story might be or creating one of their own. in addition, the deep-voiced narration was highly unnecessary since the beauty of the images told their own story. fortunately, i stayed out of earshot of most of it, and took a second look at the photographs on my way out.
none of the images above or my description can compare to being in this space, so i recommend people make it over there. although the $12 entry price might seem steep for a gallery show and short film, the amount of expense clearly needed to do the entire installation justifies it. the day i went was packed; hopefully the success of this exhibit will mean artists and galleries will take chances like this more often.
the title of this post comes from an essay by oscar wilde.