Ashes, Snow and Something for Everyone

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Seeing Gregory Colbert’s “Ashes and Snow” has been described, somewhat one-dimensionally, as a religious experience. On the outset, it is: ethereal photographs, a new age soundtrack, mythical beasts and sari-wrapped women, a dramatic cathedralesque setting. But seeing it with 40 members of the Los Angeles creative community, who gravitated instantly to the show’s specific technical triumphs, highlighted the multiple ways the exhibition succeeds.

The industry types spent most of their time perched on squat plywood cylinders, soaking up the sepia films that probably best captured Colbert’s subjects. The production is undeniably Hollywood quality; the films are edited by Pietro Scalia and narrated by Laurence Fishburne. The score, composed by Michael Brook, was live-mixed in the structure itself.

Photographers fawned over Colbert’s prints, which look impossibly like charcoal drawings. They are digitally untouched, screened (perhaps, Colbert won’t reveal how) on Japanese parchment, and coated in beeswax.

The exhibition book sent the ephemera folk reeling. Each only-of-their-kind piece feels like it’s covered in seasoned rawhide, which is actually handmade Nepalese paper sealed with beeswax, and hand-stitched with hibiscus-dyed thread.

Sustainable design sympathetics were happy to know that the building itself is truly nomadic: the cardboard concrete forms would be reappropriated; the shipping containers are rented from each city’s port. Stunning 40-foot curtains are made of one million Sri Lankan tea bags.

The modernists who smiled knowingly at the mention of architect Shigeru Ban’s name gathered together afterwards to discuss Ban’s body of work, from temporary housing in Southeast Asia to his winning concept for the new Centre Pompidou.

And later, when briefed on the uncredited underwriting from Rolex, the PR people nodded with enthusiasm that their clients might someday reap the benefits of such a sophisticated, yet widely-appealing sponsorship.