Five Heads (Tavan Tolgoi): Art, Anthropology and Mongol Futurism


FIVE HEADS (Tavan Tolgoi)
Art, Anthropology and Mongol Futurism

— five heads

Exhibition continues September 1–15th 2018
greengrassi & Corvi-Mora
1a Kempsford Road London SE11 4NU

Nomin Bold & Baatarzorig Batjargal | Bumochir Dulam
Yuri Pattison | Hedwig Waters
Dolgor Ser Od & Marc Schmitz (with Nomadic Vitrine)| Rebecca Empson
Deborah Tchoudjinoff | Lauren Bonilla
Tuguldur Yondonjamts | Rebekah Plueckhahn

Feat. Mongolian Rapper “Big Gee”

…What does the future look like, or feel like, from the perspective of a yak in the coal mining district of Khovd? A Mongolian root extracted, illegally traded and sold internationally as a pharmaceutical product? Or the toolkit of an urban shaman, securing economic fortune for professional women in Ulaanbaatar?

Five Heads (Tavan Tolgoi) brings together the work of five anthropologists and five artists/collectives researching and responding to the dramatic rise and fall of Mongolia’s mineral economy. Drawing from ongoing fieldwork in Mongolia, the artists in this exhibition conceptualise crisis as a space for the emergence of new possibilities.

Curated by Hermione Spriggs

In 1964, at a time when Mongolia was suspended in the social and economic stasis of Soviet rule, Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan seized upon Ezra Pound’s definition of the artist as “the antennae of the race,” claiming “the power of the arts to anticipate future social and technological developments by a generation and more.” Indeed, art has taken on antenna-like properties in the context of Mongolia, where the need to rapidly re-think the impacts of mineral extraction and economic chaos is pressing and real, and where a resurgence in shamanic practices—often explained by shamans themselves through a language of code and telecommunications—can itself be thought of as a kind of radar or antennae capable of reaching through time, assuring future fortune in the face of agsan (the invisible and chaotic forces of transition).

Nested within what might be described as an “aesthetics of estrangement” (Castaing-Taylor) or a process of “optimal distortion” (Neilson & Pedersen) are proposals for alternative maps and re-surfaced trajectories that shatter a teleological timeline of progress, staking territory instead for speculative thought and practical forms of human-nonhuman reciprocity. As global cores and peripheries exchange places and rehearse histories of empire formation, Five Heads explores geo-ontological emergence, (post)capitalist futures, and alternative strategies for creative survival in the present.


Dolgor Ser Od and Marc Schmitz ’ biennial project Land Art Mongolia initiates critical conversations and creative experiments engaging with land art and social practice in rural Mongolia. In response to Rebecca Empson’s toolkit of ritually-infused materials used by women in Ulaanbaatar to secure future fortune, the duo are assembling their own archive of objects and substances that act as transportation devices to a place beyond the humanly-known and knowable, a realm they are calling North of the North Pole .

Baatarzorig Batjargal and Nomin Bold re-situate Bumochir Dulam’s ethnographic account of a “spiritual cleansing” of the Mongolian Prime Minister—amidst other documents of environmental protest—into the traditional ethnographic genre of “One Day in Mongolia” painting. MNG (Batjargal, 2018) illuminates many different aspects of daily life at once: caricatures of Mongolia’s “wolf” economy tangle through a cosmos of polluted yurt cities, whilst figures from the rebel River Movement battle psychedelic visions of environmental collapse.


Deborah Tchoudjinoff ’s Baigala consists of five immersive VR “visits.” The work enables gallery visitors to mount a saddle and experience the tangible impact of mineral extraction in western Mongolia, where much of anthropologist Lauren Bonilla’s work on extractive atmospheres—exploring the phenomenological registers of Mongolia’s economy (e.g. “dustiness”)—has taken place.


Yuri Pattison responds to Hedwig Waters’ research into salvage economies along the Mongolia-Chinese border. His pick, press, fang feng (the new economy) explores the transfiguration of the medicinal root Fang Feng (which translates literally as “Guard Against Wind”) from a recognisable organic object in Mongolia into a western pharmaceutical product.


Tuguldur Yondonjamts and Rebekah Plueckhahn have been taking walks together through Zuun Ail, an area of Mongolia’s capital city that in Rebekah’s words forms an “economic topography” where “failed investment, diverted funds, changing possession rights can be speculated on or explained using the physical landscape as a guide.” Tuguldur’s work 178-291, 875-953, 3006-3106 (Mirror Princess) connects Zuun Ail with the Mongolian epic poem Khan Kharangue, which the artist has translated into the binary music of the morin khuur (a two-stringed instrument also known as “darkest dark”).

Thu 13 September 2018
Room 612, UCL Institute of Archaeology, 31-34 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0PY

 – 7.00pm, Wed 10 October 2018
Arts Catalyst, 74-76 Cromer Street, London WC1H 8DR

The accompanying publication Five Heads (Tavan Tolgoi): Art, Anthropology and Mongol Futurism (Sternberg Press, 2018) features documentation of the art-anthropology exchange processes, alongside written contributions by Simon O’ Sullivan, Uranchimeg Tsultem, Richard Irvine, Tsendpurev Tsegmid, Hermione Spriggs & Rebecca Empson, and will be available for presale for the duration of the exhibition. link to publication

Five Heads is part of the European Research Council-funded project Emerging Subjects of The New Economy , led by Dr. Rebecca Empson in the Department of Anthropology, University College London, ERC-2013-CoG, 615785






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