On the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar, framed by never ending new construction of luxury housing, and upscale office and retail developments, sits a park that will have to wait until winter’s end to continue its own development. The National Garden Park is part of a new vision for Mongolia’s capital. It has echoes of public green space in South Korea, and the new construction surrounding it is modeled after foreign high rise developments. All in all, a vast departure from the Soviet architecture and urban planning the city was built on, and world’s away from the impoverished “ger district” on the North, East and Western fringes of the city. Mongolia is on a fast track to becoming an Asian Tiger, but its most symbolic native predator will always be the wolf.
Tiger Beer’s international art project, Tiger Translate returned to Mongolia and reunited with New York based artists, FAILE for the creation and installation of The Wolf Within. They worked with Mongolian artist, Batmunkh to create the permanent sculpture, and with the help of the Mongolia Arts Council, they also had a chance to collaborate on stencil pieces around the city.
FAILE and GR friend and sculptor, Charlie Becker, tell us more about the evolution of the project from stencil, to sculpture, to 5 meter high fiberglass re-imagining.
GR: Can you say a few words about the collaborative process and taking concepts from 2 dimensions to 3?
F: We’ve worked collaboratively all our career so it’s very natural for us to have the help from another artist in the process of realizing one of our ideas. Charlie has been our go-to-guy to help us in the process of bringing our images to life. It’s usually a time consuming process. One of the biggest challenges comes in getting the emotion right, to capture that usually involves several revisions before getting it right but it always leads to amazing results in the 2D to 3D transformation.
CB: Coming from a background as a designer, It’s second nature for me to work in collaboration. When I work as a for-hire sculptor, my role is to capture the artists’ intent, not to push my own vision. But Patrick and Patrick really understand and trust me to interpret what they are looking for.
The challenge in bringing FAILE’s pieces to life is that they can combine things from different 2D sources that can’t exist together in the real world. Getting the scale and anatomy of a horse’s head to merge convincingly into the neck of a human, for example. Or a relief that’s so deep that you can see all around it, requiring distortion to make the perspective look right from all angles.
I seem to have an ability to understand where the artist is coming from, and to work in the mindset of the people I’m working with. In the few instances like this where FAILE has worked with other sculptors, I tend to act as an interpreter of their style and vision, since I’m bilingual – I speak both “artist” and “sculptor.”
A lot of figure sculptors work in a heroic style, either from working on monuments, or – here in LA – sculpting superheroes. Most fine artists I’ve worked with are at the opposite extreme, looking for the subtlest emotions, the spaces in between emotions, or the combination of several emotions. I liken it to the difference between acting for the stage, and acting for the camera. In the theater, you are emoting so they can see you in the back rows, but on camera, there is much more opportunity for subtlety. In trying to capture “Eat with the Wolf” I’d say that character is going through an emotional upheaval, simultaneously experiencing fear, joy, anger, wonder, awakening, and maybe even a few more.
You may not have to slow down for traffic jams, but big herds of livestock – goats, sheep, horses, cows, and yaks – will undoubtedly get in your way over the course of your journey. A honk or two of your horn will usually get them scampering so you can keep rolling on.
Last week, my husband and I went on a trip up to Khuvsgul Lake. It’s Mongolia’s biggest freshwater lake, and the second largest in Asia. According to Wikipedia it’s 2 million years old. In all that time it’s avoided the worst of the devastating plunder of industry, development and pollution and remains pristine. It’s one of the jewels of Mongolia, a must see if you venture all the way out here to see the beauty of this country and its diverse wildlife. Of course, it’s at its finest in the summer time. The in-law’s family photo albums all have photos from family trips to Khuvsgul with endless green mountainsides and fields of neon-bright wildflowers. Of course, we stay-cationed this summer and went to Khuvsgul after the first few snowfalls of impending winter had hit.
Fall in Mongolia means all the green is gone, and while the trees go all technicolor with the change in season, the winds drop those leaves quickly. In and around Darkhan, the wheat fields have been harvested, the tall grasses around gers have been collected for winter fodder, and if the summer’s been good (and this one was) the animals have a healthy amount of chub to keep them warm as their winter coats grow in. All across Mongolia this time of year, nomadic families are wrapping up their moves to winter camps, stocking up on supplies, and moving big herds to more palatable grazing areas. Summer gers, with thinner walls will be replaced with heavier winter felt, and central stoves are being brought back inside to provide cozy heat. Construction crews across the country are in a hurry to finish jobs they started, or resumed in spring. It’s a race against winter to get cement poured before it starts freezing.