Berkshire, Reese and Paul Galleries

Tuguldur Yondonjamts
Separated Geography from a Poem

September 17 – December 8, 2021

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Informed by his studies in traditional painting and contemporary art, Tuguldur Yondonjamts concentrates on perceptions of time, travel, communication, and transformation. Separated Geography from a Poem brings together for the first time the most comprehensive survey of Tuguldur's work, gathered from a project that began in 2016. The exhibition, the second in a biennial series focusing on international art and artists at Herron School of Art and Design, helps to reveal the artist's astonishing grasp of a wide range of ideas informed by the nomadic culture of his native Mongolia as well as his interdisciplinary research into the epistemology of globalization.

Serving as the fulcrum of the exhibition, Khan Kharangui (King Darkness), or, as the artist has translated the title, Darkest Dark, is an epic poem that is chanted for days in yurts in Mongolia entertaining and bursting the imagination of the audiences. Tuguldur eschews traditional readings and, instead, draws on his own idiosyncratic approach to art making as he explores the many ideas presented in this "heroic" poem that transcends time and place—its protagonist, King Darkness, being a time and interstellar traveler with remarkable powers. This epic is the inspiration for the artist in his own exploration into the existential experiences of the self, of the world on both a physical and cultural plane.

Since 2016, Tuguldur has investigated the forms and visual signs artists and scientists have developed in order to address communication needs within and across cultures as well as with invisible entities and extraterrestrial beings. He is particularly interested in the art and science of the creation of Arecibo interstellar radio message sent in 1974 to space for communicating with aliens. This exhibition reflects Tuguldur's research in the binary 'SAA' code language that was inspired by Arecibo message that also triggered artistic responses around the world. The installation 81 meters Backwards to the Darkest Dark is the artist's visual 'book' that contains nine snakes (which play prominent role in Mongolian culture), totaling 37 mylar strips, dotted with the entire content of the epic King Darkness now coded and printed in the binary language.

Interrogating into the material studies and the archeology of knowledge, in Michel Foucault's sense, and bridging art and science, Tuguldur's sculptural objects reinterpret archeological fossils depicted in the exhibition. The alpha-numeric "tags" overlaying the images lend a scientific-inquiry appearance to them, suggesting a set of "field notes" where the images serve as a form of empirical evidence. His extensive travels across Mongolia's steppes, the Altai Mountains, and the Gobi Desert, as well as his research into the chemistry and natural sources of malachite, jarosite, turquoise, and Gobi sand have all been deliberate steps in the creation of his art. His attention on vermilion dragon's blood, historically used by Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Asians in medicine and in painting, is triggered by an intercontinental, global circulation of knowledge that further attests to the growing scholarship of globalization as a historical process.

Tuguldur also explores the notion and meaning of interconnectivity and communication through the object, mythology, and culture surrounding the pelvis bone in Mongolia. In the epic, the King Darkness shoots arrows through a hole made of dried-up ox pelvis bone from a distance of ninety-nine years, shattering mountains and rocks in the process and creating a new road, a fresh path. In his works, Tuguldur uses the metaphor of a horse pelvis to suggest a portal that connects the visible with the invisible, present with future, and ultimately opens a path to connect here with there.

Tuguldur uses travel to open himself subliminally through his experiences, casting aside the more conventional role of travel for an artist, one where works of art are created about a given place. His Antipode suits and the performance works with them, akin to the pigments, indicate the 'journey' between the transformative states and realms, bridging the space of presence and absence, of visible and invisible.

His video work Myna Song is based on the sound of an actual Myna bird mostly widespread in India and Southeast Asia, which is known for its versatile nature, and which appears in the epic as a heavenly envoy with magical powers. In the video, in the backdrop of the snakes, which play a prominent role in Mongolian culture, Tuguldur captures a rich array of colorful lush geographies, extracted and collected from the epic King Darkness.

We hope that this exhibition, which explores such a rich array of ideas and research into globalization and the power of communication, will help our audience to expand the outreach "on the international map," as Edgar Fehnel has put it, while deepening our understanding of the possibilities of art in the 21st century.

—Uranchimeg Tsultem, Edgar and Dorothy Fehnel Chair in International Studies

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