Regrettably I don't normally have time to read the London Review of Books although the 6th October issue was a good one - Kathleen Jamie on Orkney and reviews of a new book on Frederick Law Olmsted and Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing's The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. The LRB often has reports on current art exhibitions but I was intrigued to see in this issue a review of something I can safely assume few of us will get to see, the fourth Land Art Mongolia biennial. The whole article by Lewis Biggs is available to read for non-subscribers. He describes getting to the venue, a former Soviet youth camp by a small lake near the volcano of Altan Ovoo, and seeing 'the 18 artworks were spread across the landscape in various stages of production or dissolution.' One of the things that interests me about this is the art world forces that have led to such an event, forty-eight years after the first Earth Works exhibition in New York.
'Both the traditional and realist genres are taught at the art school that’s now a part of Ulaanbaatar university, so why be a land artist? Perhaps because anything perceived purely as a ‘craft tradition’ in galleries and markets beyond Mongolia will have a more limited reception than works in an international idiom. In the 1980s artists outside the G7 countries understood that they were less visible if they didn’t speak or write in English, but at the end of that decade, the big Paris show Magiciens de la terre led the art institutions of wealthier countries to accept that the ‘contemporary’ idioms of land and performance art (though rarely painting or sculpture) were continuous with ancient forms in other cultures. A Buddhist stupa on a mountain top or a Peruvian desert drawing could now be considered a form of land art, and a shamanic trance – as Joseph Beuys recognised early in his career – a kind of performance art.'
The video clip I've embedded above is by one of the non-Mongolian artists at the biennial, Lisa Batacchi, performing a ritual offering of milk. The clip below is a piece on a previous biennial and includes Japanese performance artist Megumi Shimizu painting black ink onto a rock with her hair. This reminded me of Ink Wang, who I mentioned here a couple of weeks ago, the Tang dynasty artist who, it is said, dipped his top knot into ink in order to paint strange, expressive landscapes. In this footage it looks like she is creating a simplified version of the rock by accentuating its shadows, although a bit disappointingly she ends by adding an eye - the piece is called 'The Landscape is Staring at Us'. International artists participating in an event like this must find themselves in a potentially uncomfortable position and political engagement may be the easiest way of avoiding any concerns about cultural appropriation. Italian artist Beatrice Catanzaro, interviewed below, made her piece after researching an illegal gold mine with local activists. Mongolian artist Dajvadorj Sereeter, on the other hand, makes land art by installing tracings of ancient rock carvings.