“On having explored the language and the poetical sensibility shared by all these animals, work towards the rediscovery of the common area that once existed when the people were living in harmony with the animals. I hope that the final effect is an experience of amazement and contemplation, of serenity and hope.”
Gregory Colbert, photographer.
It was at the end of 2003 when Shigeru Ban, the Japanese popular architect for his constructions with pipes of carton, received an incredible order: of imagining a mobile museum.
The museum had to travel about the world to show the images that the Canadian photographer Gregory Colbert has taken along thirty three expeditions for unusual places of the world. The photographies answer to the criterion for looking for those original relations between the animals and the persons that the contemporary man already has lost.
Precisely the same notion of travelling with the chamber was the one that Colbert wanted for his museum. The construction would have to move, would have to travel all over the world and provoke between his visitors a strong commitment with the environment.
Ashes and Snow
During the last thirteen years Gregory Colbert has travelled with his chamber to exotic places of the India, Sri Lanka, Egypt, South Africa, Ethiopia, Namibia, Tonga, Myanmar – previously known as Burma-, the Azores and the Antarctica, to explore the basic interaction between the human beings and the animals. Significantly, the photographies capture to the animals to full daylight, and none of them has been manipulated or superposed later. This one has been a patient work, as Colbert explains:
“I am interested in exploring timeless marvels, so there is no urgency. Five years, ten, fifteen, would not have made it different, because what was done was completely atemporal.”
This way it continues:
“We would have waited for months. With the whales we were working for six weeks without one shot only still. It is days of miracles, and is days when one only thinks about them. But you do not force them. The elephants decided, the whales decided.”
They are more than hundred photographies of great format, of 180×270 cms, printed in a Japanese paper that has been colored by pigments of plants following handcrafted technologies of more than three hundred years of antiquity. They were showed by the first time in the Arsenal of Venice, in the summer of 2002, under the title ” Ashes and Snow “. The exhibition was extraordinary and one organized along the whole shipyard of the 15th century, it belongs to the Italian sea-coast, which measures more than one kilometre and a half of length. The response of the public was surprising. The images were visited by more than hundred thousand persons and the collection it was bought in its entirety by the company Rolex, which still acts as one of the principal sponsors of Colbert.
At the moment of enumerating the list of needs for the new museum that would shelter his collection, Gregory Colbert needed a space that he could organize freely, beside being able to send, close to his images, places as remote as Serengeti’s National Park in Tanzania, during the period of migration of animals; or to establish itself in the Bering Sea when it freezes. This was implying that the whole building had to be recyclable and easy to mount and dismount.
The Nomadic Museum
His experience with mobile architectures and constructive recyclable elements was a decisive factor in order that Shigeru Ban was receiving the order of developing this new concept of museum.
Ban was interested for the containers of transport of goods as a possible material of construction that already they had the idea of the trip intrinsic in his nature:
“On having travelled all over the world every container has his own history”.
The containers, on having incorporated also other qualities as his facility of being assembled and to be piled up, might transport the complete museum and change his disposition into every location.
The architect calculated that they would need hundred fifty two containers to create a structure that would close the 4.180 m2 that occupies the Nomadic Museum. Since the stiff exhibition was needing only of eight containers in which he would travel, to complete the structure of the museum other containers would take given in every new location. It would be, therefore, essential that the drawings of the architect were accompanying to the exhibition at all time, though the final building could alter slightly his disposition depending on the different local conditions.
The containers are piled up following the drawing of a draught-board and a few fronts of 10’2 meters of height, and in order to be protected from the wind that blows between the squared pattern of containers, the openings were closed with a fabric like sloping membrane.
As for his interior, continuing with his interest for the use of recyclable materials with which it is easy to construct and of to obtaining, in addition, in every place, Shigeru Ban has projected his ceiling and the columns that sustain it with pipes of carton. To protect them from the water and to expire with the protection regulation against fires, the pipes, beside being sealed, they include an impermeable internal and external coating. The studding of the cover is constructed by pipes of 30 cms of diameter that they rest on the containers and sixty four columns formed by pipes of 60 cms of diameter.
The visitors enter the semidarkness of the space of exhibitions of the museum on having crossed for a curtain of twelve meters of length that is done by a million paper bags of tea proceeding from Sri Lanka. Then a majestic sight is opened opposite to them: a long walk towards a projection room crosses between the collection of Colbert’s photographies. The simple design of the cover to two waters reinforces the effect of perspective and dramatizes the space in which the photographies seem to float between the columns for being hung by thin cables. It is as if it was entered in a sanctuary in that there are neither words nor texts, only images: a few pacific scenes of the man with animals that they make us think over.
Colbert’s works are authentic testimonies that demonstrate that our basic feelings with the animals have not got lost totally. In a world of industrial excess, the animals should not be defined simply for his degree of domesticación or aggressiveness. They also personify an unforgettable peace. Colbert’s photographies support a relation of respect and calm where nobody dominates other one; a gesture that the Nomadic Museum helps to install between the persons anywhere that one agrees, all this in atmosphere of solemnity created with materials of construction recycled.
Halldóra Arnardóttir + Javier Sánchez Merina
doctor in history of the art. doctor architect
Murcia. january 2014
Javier Sánchez Merina es Profesor Titular en la Universidad de Alicante. Anteriormente enseñó en Kingston University London y Carleton University en Ottawa. Sus clases, textos y obra construida buscan establecer relaciones entre la docencia, la investigación y la profesión. En la actualidad participa en el Proyecto de Investigación Europeo sobre Arquitectura Terapéutica.
Halldóra Arnardóttir. Doctora, (The Bartlett, UC London 1999 – homologación UMU 2007), Colaboradora con el Observatorio de Diseño y Arquitectura de Murcia (2008-10), acreditación de la ANECA como Ayudante Doctor (2012) y en la actualidad Coordinadora de Arte y Cultura como Terapia (HUVA) en colaboración con UMU, Profesora Ayudante Doctor (UCAM) y Azrieli Visiting Critic en Carleton University (Ottawa 2012).