Between world leading countries Russia and China lies Mongolia, a country with a long history of visual art, starting with cave paintings sometimes dating back 8000 years. Throughout the centuries painting has remained strongly represented in Mongolia’s art tradition, frequent subjects were the Mongolian landscape, animals and the nomadic lifestyle. For a long time there was also a focus on decorative arts and crafts, inspired by Tibetan and Chinese examples. During the Mongolian Empire (13th and 14th century) not a lot of fine art was made, yet it was highly appreciated and the leaders of the dynasty became important patrons of the arts and promoted the spread of art.
This appreciation of fine art still exists today.* In the last decades Mongolia has had a Ministry of Culture which supported state art institutions, giving them funding and material resources. More recently there have been several changes in this administration, which created instability in support. Now, with a free-market system, society art organizations are struggling to get enough funding and survive. Still the Art Institutions continue to adapt to this changing economic and social climate, but with a strong focus on traditional art forms.**
In this context it is hard to find new media art from Mongolia, though sometimes works seem to find their way into the world. As is happening to the work of Bat-Erdene Batchuluun. His work ‘Searching for… me’ premiered in the Rain exhibition at Art Mongolia in May of 2017 and was then presented at TodaysArt festival in The Hague (NL) in September of that year. More recently it was shown at Insomnia festival in Tromsø (NO) in October 2018.
Bat-Erdene Batchuluun is an upcoming multi-disciplinary artist who works in film, but also creates new media installations. He was educated at the Mongolian School of Art and Culture in Ulaanbataar. His work ‘Searching for… me’ is a multimedia installation made out of what seems very simple means; a large and small hoop connected by 134 white threads and a projector on the end of the smaller hoop. The video work projected over the threads is ‘Mandala’ which is constantly in motion. In the background you can hear the soft and relaxing sound of what seems to be Mongolian throat singing.
The title of the video work refers to the mandala (the word itself is Sanskrit for circle), which are colourful circular objects embedded in Hindu and Buddhist traditions generally accompanied by chanting. The meaning of the mandala is twofold: it can be a schematic visual representation of the cosmos or it can act as an internal guide in practices like meditation. Usually the mandalas contain a variety of geometric shapes which evolved from different symbols. Knowing this some similarities between ‘Searching for… me’ and the mandala become clear: the circular shapes, the colourful geometric patterning in the video projection, the meditative sound and the inward focus.
Batchuluun wants to take us back to our time as a baby growing in your mother’s womb, which he imagines as a world filled with blood cells and lightened by millions of nerves, where the baby exists mostly in its own mind. The installation’s kaleidoscopic qualities and calming sounds lead the way on a hypnotising journey inward, focusing on the self and offering space for introspection. Even from different standing points this work keeps its hypnotic character, for example one can look inwards from the side of the big hoop and see the threads converge to the small hoop while guiding the light of the video projection or standing on the other end to watch the intricate patterns projected along the strings and the bigger hoop onto the wall.
While Mongolian culture appears to be stuck between tradition and modernity, Bat-Erdene Batchuluun found a way to unite the two, working with simple materials to create an intricate and intriguing work of art.
* This paragraph is based on Nomintuya Baasankhuu (Deputy Director of Arts Council of Mongolia), Not Cultural Leaders but Leaders!, dec 2016. https://culture360.asef.org/magazine/7th-world-summit-arts-and-culture-not-cultural-leaders-leaders/
** These two paragraphs give a very short overview of Mongolia’s cultural history, it is just an impression and it is by no means complete.
With special thanks to Nomintuya Baasankhuu, Bat-Erdene Batchuluun and Marijke Stibbe-Börger.