Oct 16 2012

Tiger Translate in Mongolia

by Hanae Ko
Telmen and Bjornik working on their “art battle” panel drawing. Photo by Dylan Maddux. Courtesy Tiger Translate / Asia Pacific Breweries.

In late August, ArtAsiaPacific attended Tiger Translate Mongolia, a project organized by Tiger Beer (the flagship brand of Singapore-headquartered Asia Pacific Breweries) aimed at promoting emerging artists across Asia, as well as bringing them together with established artists from around the world to work on collaborative projects. Since launching in 2005, multiple editions of Tiger Translate have been held in various countries, including Australia, China, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam. This year, Tiger Translate held its second Mongolia edition, and the four-day event brought together six Mongolian artists and three international artists. The project, subtitled “Streets Digital,” focused on creating street-art-inspired collaborative works that embody the culture and history of Ulaanbaatar, as well as envision its future. 

The six Mongolian artists who participated in the event—Batbayar, Sunderiya, Telmen, Anunaran, Erdenetulga and Temuulen—were winners of a regional competition held in Mongolia earlier in the year. The international artists who participated were Australian artist and designer Matt Stewart, Filipino graphic artist Quiccs and illustrator Bjornik, also from the Philippines. 

Three groups were formed, each consisting of one international artist and two Mongolian artists, who doubled as local guides, and the teams explored various sites of Ulaanbaatar (or “UB” as referred to by locals) over the first three days of the event. Matt Stewart was teamed with Temuulen (who goes by “Temka”), an artist and graphic designer, and Sunderiya (who goes by “Soniya”), an Impressionist painter. Quiccs and Anunaran, a painter and member of the Nomad Wave performance-art group, as well as Batbayar, a student at the Fine Art University in UB, formed another group. Local artists Erdenetulga and Telmen teamed up with Bjornik. Through their investigation of UB’s culture and history, the artists were, in the manifesto of Tiger Translate, “tasked to reinterpret or translate their ideas into art, forming a vision for Mongolia’s future as an Asian mega-city.” 

Australian artist Matt Stewart and Mongolian artists Temuulen and Soniya, at the Dund Gol art space in Ulaanbaatar. Photo by Dylan Maddux. Courtesy Tiger Translate / Asia Pacific Breweries.
Australian artist Matt Stewart and Mongolian artists Temuulen and Soniya, at the Dund Gol art space in Ulaanbaatar. Photo by Dylan Maddux. Courtesy Tiger Translate / Asia Pacific Breweries.

On Day 1, the three teams visited the Museum of National History to learn about the cultural heritage of Mongolia. Established in 1991, the museum encompasses the nation’s vast history, from prehistoric to modern times. “I was really impressed by the ornate and intricate designs of their armors and historic relics,” Bjornik later commented to ArtAsiaPacific. Inspired by the various displays at the museum, he added that it was interesting to see the different patterns and styles that adorned the historic artifacts. 

The artists were also taken to the Zaisan Memorial, a monument located atop a hill in south UB, which was built to honor Soviet soldiers who fought in World War II. The monument consists of a looming stone statue of a soldier, as well as a mural that loops in a circle. The mural is a mosaic that depicts in vivid, Social Realist imagery the friendship between the USSR and Mongolia, including the Soviets supporting Mongolia’s independence from China in 1921, as well as peacetime achievements such as Soviet space missions.

Other than historic sites, the teams were encouraged to roam the city-streets of UB, one of which was Narnii Zam Street, where there is a long, graffiti-covered wall standing along a heavily trafficked road. An increasingly popular art form among the youth of Mongolia, the Western-influenced graffiti included stylized bubble letters spelling out the artists’ tags in English (or using the Roman alphabet), and colorful, graphic illustrations of urban imagery and icons. Armed with cameras, the artists explored and documented the street art scene, which they would later style their Tiger Translate projects on. 

Filipino artist Quiccs examining the graffiti art on the walls of Narnii Zam street in Ulaanbaatar. Photo by ArtAsiaPacific.
On Day 2 of the city tour, the artist teams explored the Narantuul market, otherwise known as Khar Zakh (“Black Market”)—one of the largest open-air markets in Asia, where an estimated 60,000 people per day attend the site during the summer. After being warned of the market’s notorious pickpockets and bag-slashers, the artists ventured into Narantuul. Cameras in hand, they cruised the endless rows of stands selling everything from traditional Mongolian clothes and construction materials for building a ger (the Mongolian term for “yurt”), to fake brand clothes and antique furniture and collectibles. 

After leaving the hustle and bustle of the black market, the teams boarded the tour bus to go to the Genghis Khan (or Chinggis Khan in Mongolian) Statue in Tsongjin Boldog. Located on the bank of the Tuul River, the national monument, built in 2008, is approximately 54 kilometers east of UB, surrounded by vast fields and rolling hills. The 40-meter-tall steel statue, depicting Genghis Khan on horseback, sits above a visitor center that is itself 10 meters tall. After an hour-long bus ride, along a bumpy dirt road with a constant stream of potholes, the artists were more than happy to walk up the many stairs leading up to the visitor’s center. Once in the building, an elevator took them to a doorway leading onto the horse’s head, where there is a viewing platform. There, looking out from the largest equestrian statue in the world, the artists had a fantastic, panoramic view of the Mongolian steppes—from which vantage one can imagine the vastness of Mongolia’s once-mighty empire.

Quiccs working on his team’s painting at the Vegas nightclub, Ulaanbaatar. Photo by Dylan Maddux. Courtesy Tiger Translate / Asia Pacific Breweries.
On Day 3, members of each team got together at Dund Gol, a three-story, independent art and event space in UB, to create collaborative artworks on two-meter-by-three-meter canvases. The canvases were, in fact, enlarged black-and-white photographs selected by each artist team—from images they took while touring the city for inspiration—as being the most representative of the streets of UB. The artists, provided with UV paint and magic markers (and an endless supply of Tiger Beer), worked together within each of their assigned groups to realize the ideas they had been sketching and planning for the past three days. 

Though all three international artists spoke English, almost all of the local artists did not. Translators were on standby for all teams, but for the most part—at least during production at Dund Gol—words seemed unnecessary for the artists to collaborate with one another, as they explored various combinations of colors, shape and imagery through trial and error. There was a constant sense of camaraderie at the art space as the three teams worked away on their respective canvases. 

Speaking with AAP, artist Matt Stewart explained the basic concept of his team’s collaboration: “My two teammates and myself decided that the future of Mongolia would have a modern aspect to it, but would still be holding onto its culture, which is something that would probably be very hard to get rid of.” The canvas of Stewart’s team had, in its center, a picture of a traditional statue of a boy riding a horse, which is set against a background of modern buildings. “It encompasses everything that Mongolia is about—their heritage, but also the way that modernism is happening and moving the country forward,” Stewart added. 

Bjornik’s team chose a vertical photo of a lone man walking down the Narnii Zam Street past the graffiti walls, with a clear sky above his head taking up most of the canvas. Bjornik and his teammates, Telmen and Erdenetulga, gradually filled this space with various images, including a large tiger head with massive antlers protruding into the sky. “By consulting with the other artists I am learning more things,” Telmen said to AAP, commenting on collaborative aspect of the project. “We are skillful artists with different backgrounds, so it has been a great, eye-opening experience.” 

The photo chosen by Quiccs’ team was an aerial view of UB, which is superimposed with an image of the Zaisan Memorial looming above the city. Neon pink, green, yellow, blue and orange geometric shapes were then painted and drawn onto the canvas, making the landscape into a fantastical, futuristic metropolis. 

By the end of the day, all three teams’ canvases were vividly adorned with bright colors, patterns, symbols and imagery. In an interview with AAP, local artist Temuulen emphasized the significance of the neon palette’s energetic quality, commenting on how it is the way he sees UB—“powerful and colorful, young and free.” 

A live “art battle” where the three artist teams each created a neon-marker drawing on an acrylic panel, at the Tiger Translate Mongolia global showcase. Photo by Dylan Maddux. Courtesy Tiger Translate / Asia Pacific Breweries.

The three teams’ collaborative works were presented on the last day in a grand, showcase event. The finale took place at Vegas—an urban nightclub located in the Blue Sky Tower, a modern, 25-floor high-rise that is the tallest building in UB—in the form of a glamorous party, attended by the city’s young and hip. Here, the artist teams presented their near-completed Double Vision canvases, and put the final touches on their work in front of partygoers, as part of a live event. 

Neon color became a theme of the showcase, as the black-light setting of the club highlighted the UV paint and marker on the canvases. Following the completion of the Double Vision works, a live “art battle” was held on the dance floor, where the three teams each created an additional, neon-marker drawing—on a single, large, clear acrylic panel, within a 30-minute time limit—that reflected “the energy and modernity of the Tiger Beer brand.” The audience was invited to the dance floor to view the “art battle” up close, and was free to stand right by the artists and artwork as they drew on the panels. 

Bjornik’s team drew a large face of a woman, with the image taking up nearly the entire panel. She has her eyes closed and is wearing a headdress adorned with intricate, traditional Mongolian patterns. Quiccs’ team also referenced traditional Mongolian culture in their panel work, drawing an image based on Ulaanbaatar’s coat of arms, which depicts a Garuda (a large, divine bird-like creature from Hindu and Buddhist mythology) holding a key in one hand and a lotus flower in the other. Matt Stewart’s team focused on the urbanity of Ulaanbaatar, drawing the colorful, modern buildings that are increasingly taking over the city. 

The final night’s event also saw live performances by local talent such as the band Tigerfish and DJs Ulzii, Zoloo and Anna, as well as Australian DJ duo Slice N Dice. Party guests were also invited to participate in the showcase by coloring in a massive black-and-white print designed by Bjornik. The wall-sized print—a Where’s Waldo-esque phantasmagoria of people, animals, buildings and automobiles—attracted many visitors to take part in the creative process. 

The Tiger Translate global showcase sucessfully brought together international and Mongolian artists. The more established Stewart, Bjornik and Quiccs served as mentors of sorts to the rest of their teams (gently guiding the cumulative aesthetic aspect of the projects without necessarily directing their entire concept). Meanwhile, the local artists contributed their knowledge of Mongolian culture and history. The resulting works, combining contemporary art forms with modern and traditional Mongolian imagery, presented a vision of Ulaanbaatar as a rising Asian metropolis.