Gregory Colbert is a profound artistic and spiritual genius. I saw this “nomadic museum” exhibit today at the Santa Monica pier. The still images of sleeping children and women amongst totem animals in dark river waters and the wispy desert sands are at once astonishing and deeply serene. While there are numerous still images, there are also three 35mm films playing in loop with music by musicians such as Lisa Gerrard, written especially for these works. The only part I did not really see was the novel that accompanies the exhibit. It’s 365 letters from a man to his wife after he has disappeared for a year: a letter each day describing his travels. The most amazing part of the entire exhibit is that none of the movement in the films is choreographed or scripted, and none of the images are collaged or superimposed. What you see are cheetas, Asian elephants, the sacred ibis, meerkats, manatees, falcons, ocelots, eagles, whales and numerous other animals in perfect harmony with humanity, often lying elegantly in potentially dangerous situations.
So, an artistic genius you can probably understand. But spiritual genius? As you watch these people with their eyes closed sleeping, breathing and meditating with these animals, in murky waters and on rippling sand dunes, the tao sinks right into your heart. While the psychologist in me was marveling at the imagery of the subconscious and animal natures living peacefully unguarded — a perfectly beautiful and whole interpretation in and of itself — my spirit was moved to tears at the sight of the perfect trust of these children as they slept in the crook of an elephant’s leg or sat blindly in the winds of the Sahara surrounded by cheetas. The waters flowed around the dark tresses of women lying like Ophelia in narrow wooden boats and I understood the principal of wu wei: without doing, causing or making. The water being the flow of spirit around me and the natural world, which makes no mistakes. Only we imagine them.
I go down with the water and I come up with the water. I follow it and forget myself.
To not only grasp that wisdom but to then project that in images and music is spiritual genius. Perhaps inseparable from his artistic genius, but nonetheless beyond the capability of all but a very few.
It’s no wonder that Colbert is making this his life’s work. It’s his soul’s work. And we get to enjoy the extraordinary beauty of it.