Art is made in order to express something that goes beyond reality.
I’m finding it super difficult to write down how I feel about Mongolia. It is one of the most beautifully emotional places I have ever visited. There’s only really one built up area in the country, and that is Ulaanbaatar, its capital city.
I think part of the reason I became so attached to it was because it was such a haven from the manic city of Xi’an, or China in general, apart from the airport transfer. After a brief flirtation with the idea I may get kidnapped (or worse) at 2am when stress levels were running high and my pre-booked-via-hostel-vehicle was a no-show, I finally managed to wake up the hostel owner to let me in so I could crash in my £1.50 a-night dorm bunk. Nothing quite like a passive aggressive hit on Hostelworld to solve any anger issues that resulted from this.
As soon as first light emerged I legged it to the market. Still snooze city for some.
I had a few initial thoughts about Mongolia and took the day to wander around the town.
Everyone seems to drive a Toyota, and literally everyone wears a baseball cap. I mean it.
Mongolia is nothing like China. There is so much SPACE here. In fact, Mongolia is so sparsely populated that for every square mile, it has worked out it can comfortably fit 4.3 people.
They don’t seem to focus as much on food as the Chinese do. Emphasis is more on clothing and old tvs and tat but they do a great Chinggis beer. And their vodka is pretty good too, but I’ll get on to that. Chinggis beer is named after Genghis Khan. If you’d watched Marco Polo you may already know a bit about him, OR he's a BNOC so you may just know him anyway. He’s a proper badass. Although his birthplace is known, his burial site is kept a secret. Legend has it, to protect the secret, 800 soldiers massacred the 2,000 people who turned up to the funeral. THEN these soldiers decided to kill themselves to fully complete the secret. Like a weird blood brothers pact.
There is also a rumour (or more of a theory really as we’re not in China anymore) that Mongolian horsemen may have invented ice cream. Mongolians love their dairy goods (I will expand next week), and they often transported it in a tupperware across the Gobi desert in winter (tupperware made out of animal intestines). The galloping motion shook the cream and the very cold weather froze it. Marco Polo brought the idea back to Italy in 1295. Take from this what you will.
The city of Ulaanbataar reminded me a lot of Athens, or what I imagine Russia to be, and it’s not just the Cyrillic script. The photos make it look a bit shabby but it really has a real charm to it. I mean the Mongolian Stock Exchange is the smallest in the capitalist world and it’s housed in a bloody refurbished children’s cinema. I mean COME ON.
Mongolia are also super shy about their dinosaur history/expertise/involvement. Their museum is one of the city’s highlights and it was completely empty. I was the only one in there reading the almost apologetic information plaques about how the British and the Americans stole all of their dinosaur goods.
They also love a cheeky bit of animal based art.
After a morning exploring the city, I went to join the 9 other weirdos that also wanted to venture far into the Mongolian wild and spend the next 7 days without working showers, toilets or civilisation. We were going to live with the nomads.
We hopped on our yellow bus through the nature parks to get to our cart that would take us the rest of the journey.
As I was saying earlier, art is made in order to express something that goes beyond reality. Trekking from the main city to the nomadic fields went beyond reality, and it’s kind of hard to explain just how breathtaking it was.
Mary Weatherford is perhaps a good artist to explain this in depth a little. She makes works based on a city, based on its energy and her connection with it. They are a sort of narrative of her daily life that become mood-driven. Her paintings are delicate mindscapes, mapping with bold acrylic pigment on canvas, interrupted only by a flash of neon light. You get swept up in her colour, her very descriptive paintings of a place, and then smack down the middle you get this neon tube pulling and pushing your eyes in all sorts of directions, adding levels of textures and shadows in a sculptural shape around the surface.
As I was talking about Hurvin Anderson in one of my earlier posts, their paintings are both similarly drenched in a mood of contemplation that their rich surfaces often evoke less a specific location than a state of mind – or rather – a state of mind evoked by a location.
From the Mountain to the Sea is one of my favourites (below). Ideas of place come together united with a long fluorescent tube, together with the bare wires hinting at a grubby city and urban life. It stands tall with a monstrous energy as you are placed before it. It tears you away from reality and presents you with a journey of dirty colour, but dirty seems almost insulting.
A vacuum of personal experience engulfs the rotational colours of her city, a large expanse of this blue. It is an every-man’s blue. Not an Instagram filtered blue, an unattainable Mongolian sky blue, but a down to earth dirt blue. It moves from one corner to another, a desire to express her beauty of a place, the beauty she finds in the cheap city lights that interweave with the greying clouds – a personal attachment to a place and its everyday.
I was about to experience being part of this Everyday, I was going to be accepted into the lives of people who lived without Facebook, without Instagram, without functioning toilets. They moved with the weather, the seasons. If the cows moved, they moved.
Packing our rucksacks on to the cart, Suren led the way across the water, and into the journey that would leave me yearning to understand how this could possibly be expressed, as it was far beyond a reality I had ever imagined.