Author: Marie Gayatri Kristoffersson, part taking artist at ArtCamp 2010
Since 1994 I have, as an active artist in Landart, on numerous occasions been inspired by thoughts of how a nomadic life might shape humans’ connection with nature. For instance, the idea of how nomads relocate between different pastures has, on a personal level , occasionally served as an example for how humans might best relate to nature.
To work with art in nature, after all, also means constant moving between locations where the area’s conditions play a large role in how the piece of art develops. On a figurative level one can find symbolic similarities between a nomadic lifestyle and the form of art with which I work. And on the large, contemporary, international art scene it is not uncommon to see Western artists, living with nomads for a time, only to channel inspiration from this into their art. But how does the opposite reality look like? Opposite in the perspective of activities and art making that starts at a grass roots level and in the native culture with an intention to be adopted in the western cultural world? Are there artists who work with Landart and who, with personal experience of a nomadic life-style, work with this in their art? If there are, what do they think of Landart and what is it that employs them in the meeting of art and their experiences of a nomadic life? I travelled to Mongolia to find out if such a activity could exist there.
The art scene in Ulaanbaatar
In Ulaanbaatar there are around five private art galleries and some private investments in art are taking place, mainly from state employers, but now and then from abroad, from countries such as China, Malaysia etc. This considers mainly paintings, sculpture and calligraphy. The most important institution is the National Art Council. And then there are some national organisations and networks in various disciplines. Blue Sun is one of them. Blue Sun started as an organisation called Green Horse Society around 20 years ago. At that time the initiative came from a number of artists, such as Baatarchuluun W., one of Mongolias most famous calligraphers. In the beginning of the ninety’s, they had their first international exchange with a group of artists in Holland. 1994 they also had their first project on Landart. After a contact with Swedish artists in 2004, Blue Sun again focused on Landart as a workshop platform for inspiration in Mongolia and organized the reoccurring event Art Camp. A seminar/workshop in wilderness where exchange between foreign artists and Blue Sun members can be held 8. Blue Sun is well known for being experimental and encouraging new concepts to the art scene. Today they are mainly focused on contemporary art and established artist in the group also accept students on a private financial basis. The break through of contemporary art began roughly seven years ago and there are a hand full of museums and galleries that every so often exhibit contemporary art. We are as yet not to see any form of investment or compensation from institutes to contemporary artists. And to live as a contemporary artist in Mongolia can be seen as a large economic risk. Despite this, there are a number of active artists within performance, video, mixed media, and so on. Most of them have experience in one or more arts-inresidence programs in other countries and of past exhibits, both in their own country and abroad. Others are active on the Asian art scene; China, Malaysia, South Korea and more. Books, websites and catalogues are available for their projects, exhibits and so on.
I had the honour of meeting some of these artists, cooperating with them and finally choosing some for an interview. I chose these three artists because all of them were actively engaged in contemporary art, according to the criteria I described above. They were recommended by older artists within Blue Sun and together, they could represent a spectrum of opportunities and differences. A variety which in turn, hopefully, would be able to reflect something of the contemporary Mongolian art scene.
How would you describe a traditional Mongolian life style to me, and what does it mean to you as a contemporary artist in Ulaanbataar?
The traditional Mongolian life style is about the nomadic life and the cultural implications it has developed for thousands of years. The nomadic life is also about being able to read and understand nature, so that one can survive together with one’s livestock. It is about movement, about moving from one place to another. We are all brought up in nomadic families and moved to the cities to study in our teens, or later because of career choices. The traditional Mongolian life style means different things to us. Baso, for example, thinks it’s important to preserve traditions so that they are not lost in an ever changing society where more and more Mongolians choose to move to the cities and become resident. But he underlines that art must be free and must be allowed to move freely between traditional expressions and modern ideas. To Bolto, contemporary art is a possible arena where, through his art, he is able to reestablish a kind of lost connection with things that feel significant to him, now and in his past. And to Zuge, the nomadic life is still very present in his life, and he almost describes it as some sort of constant yearning back to home; a nostalgia that sometimes is expressed in the art he creates.
Do you think that your social back ground as a nomad can inform a contemporary art perspective? Or are they two incompatible worlds? How do you reflect on this, do you see possibilities or obstacles along the way?
Neither Bolto, Baso or Zuge see any obstacles. They approach the question from different angles. Zuge and Baso prefer to work with their art so that it awakes questions, concerning conflicting fields in society. It can be about mankind’s fear for the future, social and political questions and so on. Further, they use a visual language which often has a direct connection to the nomadic life and their own experiences of it. The format of display for intention, idea and content may have a contemporary shape as, for instance, film, performance, interactive art events and so on. Bolto, on the other hand, does not combine contemporary questions with his art, but perceives himself as a sort of voice of the past. He describes it as if he conveys different messages from his ancestors and childhood through the objects he uses in his art.
For more info and continuation of the interview