Annyeonghaseyo, Sain Bien Uu and Hi! Part 2: Land Art Mongolia 360º

In Part 2 of this series, artist Sena Park continues her residency in Khentii for Land Art Mongolia 360º. For Part 1, click here.

30 July 2018

Just after 10:00am, our drink party started in the bus. It reminded me of an old fashioned party in a tour bus from a Korean movie. The party was heating up as artists began passing around a glass of drink and chattering excitedly. Some of artists looked a bit drunk already. It seemed a little early for a drink party, but it helped us to relax. And it became fun instead of a boring road trip. We started with vodka and then beer and continued to wine from the front seats to the back. Some artists politely refused to drink and some hesitated due to the early morning. Dolgor goaded us to join saying that ‘Time is time.’

Each time the bus stopped, we laughed and joked,“Are we really getting our camp in today?” It seemed like there was no proper time schedule. It was Mongolian style. ’Time is time.’ This quote from Dolgor expressed everything.

We didn’t have a chance to feel bored. We merely wondered whether we would arrive to our destination today. Suddenly, the tour bus turned and started to drive into rough terrain. The bus turned around and around as if looking for the right direction. Finally, around 3pm we arrived at our destination, our work place for LAM 360º.

First we were given rooms. Each ger would be shared between 3 artists. Acha, a translator, called out my name. The camp owner showed us a tiny room and suggested the three smallest people take it. I was selected as the first small person. Pixy and Liezel became my ger mates. Our ger consisted of three sofas instead of beds. Liezel was born in South Africa and was now living in Taiwan. Coincidently, Pixy was also from South Africa. Anyway, she was now living in Canada.  I couldn’t get away from speaking English here. Why, why, why, among the more than 30 people, why did I have to share with artists who have English for a mother tongue? I felt like speaking English was my inescapable destiny. I had prepared in advance an unlimited data pack for my mobile dictionary app. But it was useless now. There was no signal at all.

Hiking in Kentii. Photo by Sena Park

Hiking in Kentii. Photo by Sena Park

I decided to have a look around camp. When we arrived here, a big Stone Mountain had captured my eye. I wanted to climb there first. Mongolians believe that the highest mountain looks after the surrounding areas and they respected the mountain. This Stone Mountain was a sacred mountain in this area. Dolgor gave us a warning that we shouldn’t climb the mountain across the centre. We had to start from the left side to climb up and climb down along the right. Liezel, Sophie, Michelle and I decided to go. We started with high hopes, but the mountain was tougher than we expected. We thought we would reach the summit and take a commemorative photo. But I was scared from the beginning when I saw an eagle flying overhead and eventually we had to give up due to its difficulty. Our hopes were dashed.  

At the end of dinner time, the Mongolian assistant curator, Solongo, asked us to do a special ceremony before our work began. The ceremony was a prayer to the highest mountain (where we had climbed) and giving thanks to the land and sky, sprinkling fresh milk on the earth with a spoon. Sunset began and we continued into the night with drinks.

31 July 2018

Yesterday we were told our breakfast would be ready at 9am. In the quiet morning, Liezel and I opened our eyes. Someone was knocking at our ger door. A familiar face brought our breakfast dishes in. Pixy started awake and asked, “Is it already 9am?” It was only about 7:40am. Later, we took our meals when food came out. And no one complained about it and we all followed this flow.

I planned to check out three different places for my installation today. The first place was close to our campsite, alongside a walkway over the hill. It was easy to walk to. When I reached the top of the hill, I could see Richard, who came from America, and our translator Acha were sitting on a flat and wide stone as if meditating within nature. I tried to pass by very quietly. Then I just laughed. They were trying to find a signal in the middle of this beautiful landscape. In Mongolia, higher places have more chances to receive mobile signal. I tried too. But it didn’t work.

I came back to camp and turned right. The terrain looked homogenous from a distance. But when I got closer, the sites had different shapes like creatures. This side had much more dried grass and stone. The area was also a bit higher than where I had just been. I tried to find signal and it worked.

After a short sweet reunion with modern civilisation, I kept walking around the back of the sacred Stone Mountain. It looked like an endless narrow valley. It was absolutely silent. Getting far from camp, even though it was still daylight, this silence made me a little scared. The land was climbing higher. Once I reached this end of the valley, another world opened out in front of my eyes. I felt as if I was standing upon a precipice. In front of me was an unpredictably vast landscape.

At sunset, we all gathered around the commotion coming from the centre of the camp. Camp owner Miga was preparing a special night event for us. Miga was a retired soldier. He was hoping to make this camp an eco-friendly camp. He had invited singers for the night. The music amp wasn’t very good. But it was interesting to hear Mongolian traditional and modern music. The show continued with traditional dance. After the event, Miga introduced himself and started to sing a song. He said he was shy at the beginning but later, he looked as if he was really enjoying himself and did one more song. We all started to dancing with the music. During my stay in Mongolia, I found Mongolians are very cheerful and full of excitement.

For dinner, a spicy red soup was served. It reminded of the Korean food Gamjatang. Lewis, the curator, wanted to talk about my project. I haven’t had a chance to discuss my work since I finished my Master a long time ago. I felt like a student again and got nervous. But he was nice and understood my idea. We planned to check my space together tomorrow.

After dinner, as usual, we started to chat. Sophie wanted to research horse culture and she had visited local horse trainers this afternoon. Sophie’s family had worked with horses for three generations. Even though Sophie and the local Mongolians had different backgrounds, they could have very interesting conversations about horses. She was so excited when she talked about her encounter that she started speaking in French. We stared at her but she didn’t notice. Acha gently reminded her, English please! We all laughed. It was getting dark. We couldn’t see each other, but we chattered away until late.

02 August 2018

I had a refreshing sleep last night. Our breakfast was broccoli soup which I hate most of the time. But I really enjoyed it this morning.

I determined to start my installation today. My site consisted of big stone and they formed a circular lounge. You could sit on the stones and you could have a view of beautiful 360º degree view of nature. Nature is an unpredictable and wonderful creature. I had selected this place yesterday, but when I arrived today, it felt totally different, probably due to different air and sunlight conditions. I wanted to perform a ceremony before I started. When I had asked Solongo where to get some milk for a prayer, she said it was not easy. We had to use fresh milk from a horse. We might not be able to get it right now. We tried to ask our neighbouring camp family who raised horses and cows. Luckily they had some fresh milk.  

I sprinkled a small amount of milk toward the sky, the sacred mountain and the ground as well.

Dolgor checking on Liezel's work. Photo by Sena Park

Dolgor checking on Liezel’s work. Photo by Sena Park

When I came back to camp, Liezel was preparing to start her project. She asked me to help push her work. Her work looked like a small mobile shelter. When we began pushing it, Dolgor noticed a problem with its wheel. Dolgor suggested we fix it more firmly. The road here was not even and Dolgor worried about all of the artists’ safety. Liezel’s aim was to spend 2~3 nights outside in the open. She wanted to experience real nomadic life with a shelter designed with modern technology. From the first day, Dolgor was worried about her. There were many wild animals out there.

At lunch time, Lewis told me he saw two big snakes at my site. Solongo and Lewis said it means good luck. We all thought it must be repayment for my milk ceremony.

My work Visitation was intended to be a comfortable space situated in the vast Mongolian landscape created from the perspective of a foreigner or visitor. I asked myself, how much would I be able to understand the local culture and adapt to it? I wanted to express my idea of life in a natural environment, juxtaposed with my longing for city life and connections to people. I started to construct a wood column first which symbolised contemporary buildings as their vertical shape contrasted to the horizontal landscape. This was also the entrance to my work space. The ground was harder than I thought so I only did one column.

Next, I tried to cover the ground with Astro turf. It felt like it was heavier than New Zealand products. Its rubber bottom was much harder and thicker. Lewis and Solongo returned to see my progress. They asked me where I would build my entrance columns. I pointed to where one column was already standing. Solongo’s face darkened. In Mongolia, there are many of cultural traditions that still affect their daily life. Among them, the entrance of a house should face north. They keep this tradition to avoid bad spirits. My gate was facing to South. The location was chosen according to my own interpretation of modern house building. But I didn’t want to take the risk, even if it was just a superstition. I changed my gate straight away.

Work in progress on my site in Khentii. Photo by Sena Park

Work in progress on my site in Khentii. Photo by Sena Park

About 6 pm when I got back to camp, it started to rain. The rain got stronger. Miga left very rapidly in his van. Here in countryside, we can work in any place we want to with no limitations. Some of artists chose to work far away in hidden locations. Miga had gone out to check on everyone’s safety. A few minutes later, Liezel got off from the Van. She knew the rain was getting strong and she had left her work out there and came back alone. The rain seemed to stop so we had a dinner.

Suddenly, rain started pouring down and strong winds howled. I have never seen this kind of storm before. It was a different kind of fear compared to a storm within a city. It was very hard to describe. It was the power of sublime nature. Our shelters were built using eco-friendly constructions. They didn’t look strong enough to withstand this weather. I could see everything as the storm rapidly approached. There were no buildings to obscure our view. It was my very first experience of this horror.

The rain was getting stronger and our shelter began leaking so we hurriedly moved our things to a safer place. We were in chaos. The staff started to count off our numbers. The weather worsened. Liezel was running toward us. She just had gone out to check her work. She shouted that Sophie would be still out there. Miga and few artists went to go find her. Our road was disappearing and turning into mud puddles. The van returned back without Sophie. The staff discussed something briefly then went out again to save her. What was endless calm had turned into a horror scene. Our camp was full of water and mud. Some ger chimneys were torn down and water was pouring straight in. Finally, they returned with Sophie. She had been hiding inside of an animal shelter. She was so scared and had wanted to come back. But it was too far and dangerous to walk back.

The heavy rain continued for a while. Once it stopped I checked that everything was ok. Our room was covered with mud. I found everything was ok here, but I worried about my materials outside. I had just opened my brand new Astro turf. My artificial flowers were probably blown away. But I couldn’t go and check now. It was too dark and wild animal must have started to prowl.

3 August 2018

I don’t know why almost every night I wanted to go toilet. I couldn’t sleep well last night and went toilet at sunrise. It was raining and Bada asked me to go to town with him. I was so happy to leave our camp site. I had stayed here for only a few days but I was so excited to revisit civilisation. Getting closer to town, our phones began buzzing with messages one after another.

In town, I saw a very familiar face. Bada’s wife Jurke was waiting for us. Actually, the main purpose of this journey was to pick her up. Shortly after, we arrived in the biggest city in the province. We visited a hardware store which sold almost everything and we dropped by a grocery market. They were selling Korean food as well. I bought a bottle of the most popular Mongolian vodka. When we got back to camp, Miga announced he would take people on a Chinggis city tour where we had just been. I went to my work place instead. Fortunately, my artificial flowers were all in the right place after overcoming the horrible weather from last night. I planned to cover the stones with colours. We couldn’t use chemical paints so I had prepared some coloured pigments from Narantuul market. There were only limited colours available, but I enjoyed this chance to use their traditional colouring methods. I mixed the pigment with water and salt, waiting until it was evenly dissolved. Then I poured the coloured water on the stones and waited until it dried. The colour wasn’t as vivid as chemical paint but it blended naturally and the stone absorbed the pigment. The colour worked beautifully but I had expected the coloured stone to interrupt the natural environment. Instead, it looked just like a part of the nature. I drew some patterns instead. Working within the nature wasn’t going as I had imagined.

At night, I joined a drinking party in the Mongolian artists’ ger. When I arrived, it was already full of artists. We sat in a round shape. A cup of vodka was passed clockwise. A Mongolian artist, Odmaa, was in charge of serving vodka. She poured a little amount into the mug. We didn’t need to finish the vodka in the mug. You could just drink as much you wanted or just wet your lips. But it is very rude to just refuse. While we were having this party, no one refused their drink. In Mongolia, they share their drink from a single cup. In Korea, we also have a similar tradition. Usually I refuse but here I decided to follow along. They started this tradition to protect themselves from poisoning in ancient time. It sounds very sad, but it became their drink culture in modern times and it helps to make it more fun and enjoyable. Once I drank, I tried to pass my cup through the space between two sticks supporting the ger roof. The artists were surprised and stopped me. We couldn’t cross anything in between two sticks.

Photo by Sena Park

Photo by Sena Park

Odmaa only poured a very little amount of vodka. But even that amount, after a few cups, I felt I was getting drunk. It was very late. Some of the artists had to sleep. The artists who wanted to continue moved to another place and continued the party. It was actually my very first and last dangerous vodka drinking night in Mongolia.

4 August 2018

When I opened my eyes, I felt like I was not in my own body. I couldn’t do anything and was so dizzy. I missed Korean food so much at that moment. Bada must have read my inner thoughts and he made me noodles similar to Korean kimchi-jjigae. I was so impressed that someone had made me Korean food. I was more than just thankful.

5 August 2018

I found out later my site was a night route for cows. Every morning, I had to clean their dung off my work. According to witnesses, they hit their heads on my wooden gate columns. They were always fallen down every morning. I was going to sew a traditional Khadag scarf to cover the biggest stone. The Khadag mostly comes in yellow, green, blue, red, and white. It is a very light and soft fabric. Khadag are used to show respect for people. You can hold this with both hands and raise in front of a respected person. And when trees or stones are tied with Khadag, they become sacred statues. It’s influenced by Tibetan Buddhism. I wanted to incorporate this idea into my work. I would cover my stone with Khadag to make an artificial colourful environment, transforming the site into a sacred one. Usually, people tied the scarves onto objects. But I would sew mine. But it was hard to sew as it was windy and the stone was uneven. So I sewed each scarf patching each time and stitching them followed its shape. Some parts were tied and others knotted.

I could see a group of artist nearby. Bada started to document his work. His artwork was made up of different sized mirrors, and each mirror was set at a different angle. Us artists of all different races, genders and nationalities stood in front of these mirrors, hiding our eyes with long scarves. There was even a horse. The long end of each scarf was tied to another person’s scarf. We were all tied up and tangled. We became one object. Our poses mirrored on his mirror work. Bada gave us instructions, first in Mongolian then in English. We couldn’t see our pose and had to concentrate on the next order. Bada wanted to explore what we thought about while we were blindfolded. He thought it would be our own time to reflect. But I was so concentrated on the English I didn’t have a time to think my own thoughts. But, it was a good experience negotiating what an observer experiences and about an artist’s work.

My own idea has started from a fantasy of an untouched land where I had never been or experienced. I was interested in the natural environment and Mongolians’ lifestyle. However, I knew that I would miss my city life and connections with people. To represent city life, I thought about night life. I found that many of tourists brought speakers here and disco light in anticipation of night time. I had also brought with me a small mirror ball, glow sticks and bling bling disco lights which were battery operated. I knew that many of the artists were already thinking about power and had prepared solar power devices. Once I completed my installation, I tried my night life tools. But it didn’t work. It was a totally different effect than when I had tried in an enclosed area. I began panicking when I realised it wouldn’t work.

Khadag found in the Gobi desert. Photo by Sena Park

Khadag found in the Gobi desert. Photo by Sena Park

I had wanted to explore within my work how I might adapt to a new culture, but perhaps I was simply recreating it at a distance without much consideration. In the middle of a remote place, I had expected my work would be a place for socialising. I placed a bottle of wine with glasses in the centre. My site had unobstructed views. The sky became clear. I believed my imaginary snakes brought luck again. The curators and photographer arrived. The artists gathered to see my work. They came into my place and started to share wine. They were just enjoying my work as I had intended.

My night life image didn’t work well.  But I believed its failure was the result of my misunderstanding about Mongolia.

Later, I had a chance to talk with a Korean visitor. He said he noticed my work had been done by a Korean artist. Even though most of the materials were bought in Mongolia, even I found their traditional colours very similar to Korea. We have much in common in terms of historical background. Already, a few artists wondered whether I got inspired by Korean culture. I didn’t intend to show Korean culture. But many of people read Korean culture from my work. But the visitor’s comment was more than I had anticipated. He described and understood my work absolutely from the perspective of a Korean. He compared every single items of my work with Korean cultural items. He believed all ideas came from Korean culture. Of course, I didn’t need to hide my Korean background. But I was surprised that some audiences really focused on my cultural background. I had just tried to interpret Mongolian culture through a foreigner’s perspective but I learnt something new. My Korean background influences a lot of my work and it would be more evident when I am away from New Zealand. More than when I am in New Zealand.

Another twinkling night was passing.

I spent the rest of the day visiting other artists’ works. As a first residency, I have not only learnt a lot of productive things, but also I had some frustrations and realised I still have far to go.

The 10 days of residency in Khentii have finished. In the morning, we said goodbye to Miga and his families. We didn’t forget taking group photos.

I remember the way to here took so long. But the way back was real quick.

I was so glad to be back in the city. In Ulaanbaatar, we had one last event to attend, an exhibition at the Mongolian National Modern Art Gallery. Some of the artists had to install their work for the exhibition. The rest of us had a free time for two days.

In the evening, about 8 of us went for dinner together and few artists suggested Korean food for their first meal back. I had assumed they would have preferred European than Asian. What good was this to me anyway! I lead the way even though I had no idea where to go. I just trusted my feeling and chose a Korean restaurant. There was already a group of artists and curators inside.

It was amazing that everyone chose Korean food for their first dinner back. I couldn’t describe that moment. It was more than just surprise. Is Korean food really this popular in other countries? I knew that people were starting to know about Korea due to K-pop but I thought it was only the young generation.  In our dinner group, there were two of vegetarians. I suggested menu items which didn’t include large portions of meat. I thought it would be easy to take it out. But I was shocked with the meat portions in their meals. Yes, it is Mongolia. They love meat. I felt like half of the meal was filled with meat. Luckily, they all enjoyed the food. Even the non-vegetarian dishes, I was a little bit embarrassed and I realised I was imagining the Korean food which I ate in New Zealand. I totally forgot what was normally served in Korea. I felt sorry to them for my poor suggestions. Typically, foreigners think of kimchi when they think of Korean food. But Korean eats Kimchi with any meal – it really just depends on people and personally I don’t mind it. Surprisingly, all the European artists loved kimchi and ate it as an appetiser. They even asked for Korean rice wine which they didn’t sell. It was the first experience I had of foreigners asking for rice wine without any suggestion from a Korean.

10 August 2018 – Last day of LAM360º

At 4pm, we left to go our exhibition opening. When we arrived there, everyone looked very busy. Our opening reception was filmed by a television crew and there were a few speeches with important people. Finally, the 5th Biennial LAM360º had finished. All my experiences and achievement would be stored in precious memory. I felt a little disappointed in myself. But I trusted I would do better next time. We took a lot of photos in front of the works and we had some time to talk about each other’s art work.

Our opening lasted about 2 hours. Then we moved to our hotel rooftop bar for an after party. Delicious food and drinks came out. Once the experience was over, I felt sad saying good bye to everyone. Some of artists must be used to this kind of situation though. The first artist to leave was Taiwanese artist Ming. We held him up taking photos for a long time. He couldn’t leave. Later, one by one the artists started to leave. The rest of us went to a club to try out Mongolian nightlife.

We all enjoyed this time dancing together to music. The club was located on a street called ‘Seoul Street’ which the capital of South Korea. The street was packed with people. The both sides of the street were lined with food trucks. The road was completely occupied with tables. Cars were blocked from coming down this road. We were surprised by how expensive nighttime prices for drink and street food were comparing to usual prices. We spent almost all of the money in our hands. We put all together whatever money we had and shared together. There were only 4 international artists left including me but all of the Mongolian stayed with us. We departed to find a final place for tonight. It wasn’t easy to find a place still open and we delayed time deciding where we should go. The Mongolian artists pushed us into taxis. We had no idea where we were going. We felt like going far from the city. Later, we found out that the taxi we took was a special taxi. The taxi guided customers to places that were still open. The taxi received payment from bar owner where they dropped us there. We didn’t pay at all.

We arrived at a dark place that looked like a playground. It was called ‘Ulaanbaatar Palace’. We entered into a place that looked like a sport stadium. Within the deep entrance, a night club appeared. It reminded me of a big concert stadium with a mood like a 70’s-80’s disco club. There was a huge mirror ball like I have never ever seen before in the middle of ceiling. This place was covered with twinkling rainbow coloured lights. The music was gentle and soft. Familiar pop music was playing.

The DJ’s spoke in the middle of the music playing. This place reminded of a past generation in old Korean movies. While we were so excited on the dance floor, the Mongolian artists started to fall in sleep one by one. Even though they didn’t have any energy, they hosted us until the very last minute. It wasn’t enough just saying thanks for what they provided to us the whole time.

It was closing time and the DJ was ready to play his last song. I couldn’t hear what he was saying but I picked up several words like ‘Land art artist’. I asked later what he said, and some of the Mongolian artists had actually requested the DJ make an announcement about us international artists who participated in LAM360º to say thank you. It was wonderful and unforgettable night.

Our Lam 360º campsite in Khentii. Photo by Sena Park

Our Lam 360º campsite in Khentii. Photo by Sena Park

11 August 2018

My hotel room mate Satoko left in the early morning saying goodbye while I was still in bed. I went down to have a breakfast. Many of artists were having breakfast. We had said good bye and hugged last night.  But we did it again with the artist who we met at breakfast time. I came down to the lobby to check out at 12pm. We said goodbye and hugged again.

Tomorrow, I start my Gobi group tour. I still had to stay one more night in Ulaanbaatar. I went to meet the last artists still in Mongolia. We had dinner together. Each artist had strong opinions and it wasn’t easy to order food, but it was so much fun. And after dinner, we had another farewell time again. Some artist were determined they would leave straight away to avoid repeated farewell hugs. We all just laughed. It was really the last goodbye. I hope to see you all again.

This writing was made possible with the support of