Giant Robot Store and GR2 News

Happy New Year from Mongolia! We’re a half an hour or so from 2013 here. In front of the Darkhan Children’s Theatre there’s been an all night fireworks show – fireworks being a welcome import from neighboring China. Today has been a lot of visits from family with gifts and good tidings for Christmas and New Years (squished together here for secular efficiency) and to check out the newest member of the Mongolian family. 2012 brought me back to Mongolia, but this time for good. It led me to say goodbye (for now) to a much loved Giant Robot family and friends in Los Angeles. It brought me a husband and an army of amazing in-laws who have embraced me and my American family. And the last gift of 2012 was the arrival of a tiny human. All in all, it’s been a jam-packed good year. I don’t have any resolutions for 2013. Well, maybe one… I resolve to keep doing what I’ve been doing, since it seems to be paying off. Mongolians love ABBA’s one and only ” holiday” song, second only to Boney M and Wham’s Christmas tunes. I’ve heard this ABBA song everyday since December 1st, so I’ll send 2012 off into the ether with it…
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When I moved to Mongolia, I quickly got a job as an English teacher at a small private school in Darkhan. A new friend, who was also a teacher helped me get the job, and connected me to other teaching opportunities to supplement my teacher’s salary. I’m taking a break from full-time teaching for the time being, but I still have some private students, and when my friend presented me with an invitation for a visit with her 10th grade English class, I couldn’t refuse. It’s that time of year when kids already have one foot out the classroom door. They’re ready for the holidays and looking forward to a short break from their studies. In Mongolia, the holiday hype is all about New Year’s Eve, with Christmas (minus the Baby Jesus) lumped in. Mongolia may be a primarily Buddhist country, but the commercial nature of the holidays has translated well here. Christmas carols are blaring at the department stores, and cellphone ringtones have been changed to reflect the season. Lots of ABBA’s “Happy New Year” and Wham’s “Last Christmas” is going around.  Keeping this in mind, the topic of the class visit needed to be lighter fare. The class wanted to know about me. They wanted to know where I came from and what I did when I was there. I came up with a lesson plan that included back issues of Giant Robot, a vocabulary worksheet about Christmas in the US, and most importantly, the Big Boss Robot  and the Uglydoll Icebat snowflake template! Eric and Martin have spoken at countless academic institutions over the years, so I’d like to think I was continuing a GR tradition, but once the templates and the scissors came out, the educational value of my lesson plan dissolved into a full on crafting session.  Giant Robot is as much about creativity as it has been about documenting and sharing culture, so in the end, it all worked out pretty perfectly. Everyone got in on the action, sharing three pairs of scissors their teacher had rounded up from neighboring classrooms. I had brought enough templates to practice with though, and enough for everyone to get a chance at creating both characters. I also encouraged the class to create their own designs based on the same principle as the template Eric created. Some students started experimenting when their templates were finished. Spreading holiday cheer and creativity Giant Robot style! From chilly, snowy Darkhan, wishing all of you a happy, healthy and creative holiday – however you spend it! Just make sure it includes friends, imagination and sharing. It’s better that way.
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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.

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Road trips in Mongolia don’t include truck stops with amazing pinball machines, billboards, or re-fueling on junk food, and sometimes they don’t even include asphalt.

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.

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Here’s the latest on the stolen dinosaur bones which were auctioned off for a million bucks in May. The NY Daily News reviews the latest in the ongoing saga (interspersed with random “fossil” news). In short, the guy who obtained the fossils to build the skeleton that went to auction, has been spending his summer crabbing about the Supreme Court decision to return the fossils to the Mongolian government. A small army of paleontologists checked it out thoroughly and decided that there was no way possible that the fossils had come from anywhere BUT Mongolia, and it’s been illegal to remove them from the country without permission for the last 90 or so years. A paper trail was followed, and it led back to Prokopi who was sticking with a story that the fossils were legally obtained and he was just a guy who loved to put dinosaur skeletons together to feed his family. He felt like the Mongolian and US governments were being total jerks for trying to get to the bottom of things to get this pretty miraculous assemblage where it was supposed to be. Well, surprise. He was lying. He’s now been arrested and criminal charges for smuggling lots and lots of illegally obtained fossils have been filed. Photos of him actually digging stuff up out of the ground in Mongolia have come to light. His company website has an “about us” page, telling the story of how he and his wife built up the business of taking the rare treasures of other parts of the world, decorating Florida McMansions with their spoils and turning it into a profitable family business. He definitely thought he had the system figured out. I’d be less annoyed with this guy if he hadn’t been so adamant about getting the bones back and even trying to take legal action against the decision to return the skeleton to its rightful home. Now that he’s been nabbed he’s threatening that the black market for stolen fossils and artifacts will now be driven even deeper underground. No pun intended.
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