Mongolia 360 Land Art Biennial

Artist: Multiple Artists
Location: Dundgovi Province, Mongolia
Year of completion: 2012
Leon Tan

Mongolia is a landlocked nation sandwiched between two political-economic superpowers, Russia and China. Its ecology is at once resource rich and barren, its vast desert spaces harboring coal, copper, tin, tungsten, and gold. Its inhospitable terrain of steppes and desert was historically home to nomadic tribes. Growing tensions have developed between China and Mongolia in recent years, not least over the question of how best to manage and utilize the resources of the (shared) Gobi desert. On the one hand, the Mongolian conception of the world reserves a special place for nature, and is consequently well aligned with conservation values. On the other hand, the Chinese (and modern) worldview is based on accelerated economic development with little regard for environmental impacts or sustainability.

The second edition of Mongolia 360 Land Art Biennial (August 5-17, 2012) in Dundgovi Province (Middle Gobi) was a collective and site-specific response to the theme of ecological crisis, curated by Anna Aurelia Brietzke and financed by organizations including the Open Society Foundation, the Arts Council of Mongolia and the Goethe Institut. As the name suggests, the biennial located itself within the (largely western) tradition of land art, extending the concerns of pioneering land artists with human interpretations of nature’s power, drama and constraints to include considerations of “the impact of global warming, the irreversibility of pollution, and the final destruction of our ecosystem.”

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27 local and international artists in total participated in Mongolia 360, creating an extremely diverse range of work. For his contribution, Mongolian artist Chimeddorj Shagdarjav wrapped a 10-ton large rock in clear plastic packaging, replicating the details of Mongolian duty free shopping bags at larger-than-life scale. We might interpret this work as a provocation to audiences to consider the environmental impact of tourism and long-distance air travel on the fragile ecology of Mongolia. Maro Avrabou and Dimitri Xenakis’ works addressed water and arable land scarcity. Water consisted of 6 blue fabric circles (each of three meters in diameter) arranged systematically on a flat stretch of desert. Kitchen Garden consisted of 700 crumpled green rubbish bags set out in a geometric array to look like a domestic garden of lettuce heads. In both cases, a single color served to evoke the scarcity of a resource, the absence of pools of blue water and the impossibility of growing salad leaves respectively. Other works variously commented on the expansion of the Gobi desert, the effects of mining, and the relationship between human bodies and the earth.

Mongolia 360 is commendable as a coherent program of land art, curated and executed in often difficult physical conditions. It brought much deserved attention to the artistic and ecological circumstances of a region about which little is generally known, temporarily transforming landscapes of rock, sand, and grass into places rich in meaning and significance. While the interventions did not necessarily make direct improvements to the ecological balance of the region, they nevertheless highlight urgent issues pertaining to the continued existence of human and other life forms, with a degree of humor and imagination.

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency