Mongolia Pavilion 2017

The National Pavilion of Mongolia presents Lost in Tngri (Lost in Heaven) and brings together 5 artists who explore the urgencies of Mongolian contemporary society. The country is at a crossroads between its identity as a nomadic nation, with an important history of Shamanism and Buddhism, and a new economic reality of globalization, where the use of natural resources threatens its very existence. Traditions of herding across vast and beautiful terrains with a life connected to nature, ancestry and the spiritual world is seen as heaven by many. Economic opportunity, created following the collapse of the socialist system in 1990, has opened the door to another type of heaven. Mining, construction, cashmere and other businesses have boomed, creating wealth through the exploitation of the lands of their ancestors. But is the country disappearing between these two biospheres? Through film, installation, sculpture and sound, the artists from across generations, question Mongolia’s future.

Artist Chimeddorj (b.1954) has lived through a period of imposed cultural control during the socialist period as well as the transition to a peaceful democracy. His work I’m Bird (2016) consists of sixty bronze cranes, all moving in unison. Across Asia the crane is a symbol of happiness and eternal youth. They arrive in Mongolia for the summer and suddenly disappear, returning to Africa for the winter. They are resourceful in what they eat, changing their diet according to what’s available. Chimeddorj’s work introduces more complex associations, by combining their form and silhouette with that of a gun. The idea came to mind when he saw “a teaming crowd of young Mongolians in front of the Korean Embassy in Ulaanbaatar; they were standing in line to get visas to work in Korea.” This arresting work of ranks of birds, a sub group of reptiles and the last living examples of dinosaurs, mixes unsettling associations of history, strife, exodus and foreboding. Chimeddorj is questioning where modern goals lead us and to what extent the restless quest for new worlds destroys the old ones.

Enkhtaivan’s (b.1977) artistic career developed during a further period of change and the arrival of greater artistic freedom. Utilizing a range of media beyond painting and sculpture, his filmic installations force the viewer to question their own actions and consequences in relation to the environment. In this exhibition he is showing a video installation entitled Karma (2013). The image of dry desert is projected onto the floor; a chair with a foreshortened back is positioned in the centre. It becomes a symbol of power to be fought over; it is uncomfortable, fragile and will not support anyone for long. On it sits a small aquarium containing fish. From this tiny oasis, the fish look out questioningly. The shifting projection emits shadows and the chair seems to implicate the viewer. We are forced to question our own actions and the consequences in relation to the environment.

Munkhbolor (b.1983), Bolortuvshin (b.1982) and Davaajargal (b.1988) represent a younger generation that grew up during a harsh transition period of chaotic shifts in society. Munkhbolor’s work Karma of Eating (2016) focuses on damage to the Mongolian ecosystem, a creeping desertification caused by overbreeding of goats for the cashmere business. In 2010 exceptionally cold winters, combined with droughts, killed millions of animals in Mongolia. His use of animal skulls, the victims of brutal natural disaster, not only juxtaposes the worlds of shamanistic ritual and commercial gain, but reminds us that exploitation and over consumption drive the cycles of destruction and disaster. Bolortuvshin recently went on a journey across a remote part of Mongolia and discovered the devastation left by unregulated mining and widespread environmental pollution. In her work Raped (2016) she uses her lens to express deep anger and outrage. Davaajargal presents Reexist (2017), a sound piece of just over ten minutes that mixes noises from nature as well as traditional and electronic music. For Davaajargal “noise, sound and music are all notions of space” and he is interested in researching the relationship between physical and spiritual space. The intersections between time, rhythm and thought are his focus. He also speaks of the inevitability of death” and contests the idea that “we live only once”. He feels this leads to humans being too embroiled with money and wealth. Instead he states, “Death is not the end! There is rebirth, recurrence, reincarnation, re-existence …”.

The exhibition alludes to human nature and its effect upon society and the environment. While the context is uniquely Mongolian, the impacts are global and universal.

Tessa Jackson OBE