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To a perfectionist, viewing T. Enkhbold’s fourth “Mining” exhibition could be a slightly flustering experience. The entrances to the show are barricaded with wooden fences, rusted scaffolding, and backs of seemingly empty canvases. Once inside, you are compelled to maneuver around dried camel droppings – evidence of the artist’s performance from the opening night.

In the half-light of the gallery, I tried to decipher the meaning behind large square and rectangular (2x3m) abstract works, doing my painter dance: moving in close to see the picture, then stepping back to see it from afar. Moving in close again. And stepping back again. On something round and brittle under my heal. Camelcrap!

T. Enkhbold explores the boundaries of traditional practices in creative arts. In a country where the principal income consists of mineral extraction, one of the missions of conscionable artists such as Enkhbold is to diversify the production of goods by nudging people toward a fresh outlook on old conceptions.

His mixed-media, abstract paintings incorporate a stark palette of sepia, charcoal, and taupe. They are created with pigments made of rust, soot, dung, dust etc. (The paintings emitted a scent of burnt juniper incense to me.) Applied onto a canvas, the unorthodox paints, accompanied by sparse assemblages, acquire a subtle, sculptural quality.

As if the raw particles of once useful things evinced new life on a different plane.

After overcoming the urge to rearrange the whole place, the visitor might observe a certain rhythm and logic to the show. The compositions loosely adhere to an offbeat Fibonacci sequence. The negative spaces seem to expand in almost harmonious repetition. Sometimes their details trick the eye into believing that the image is something else. Breadth emerges gradually from the cluttered chaos.

To me, they evoked cartographic impressions of a landscape, a country road, a cropland. But the real charm of abstract art lies in its openness to interpretation – freedom to explore the myriad worlds of the imagination within a few set parameters suggested by the artist. If the mind has been weaned off such liberties through quotidian concerns or other stuff as it is often the case for me, the challenge presented by abstract art is to emancipate it from traditional concepts.

There is a pedagogical aspect to Enkhbold’s artistic experimentations – an amiable echo of the Mongolian proverb “айлаас эрэхээр авдраа уудал” or look first in your own chest of drawers before asking neighbors for something. Attention and resourcefulness are cultivated in children from an early age in traditional Mongolian nomadic households. This trait is especially prominent in the silk appliqué, and the discreet stitches in the felt and linen details that grace the rugged planes of raw materials in his paintings.

In Enkhbold’s art, patience and care result in works that communicate more constructive ways of producing value. In the contemporary Mongolian context, to regard the concept of mining as quarrying innovative ideas by reviving once useful things is rather unusual. Enkhbold’s performances intimate the artist’s creative process – a sacred ritual honoring the intangible creators of his art and media.

Bringing forth original ideas through unconventional methods often disrupts preconceived notions and implicates chaos. Looking back, I am happy to have refreshed my habitual outlook on customary situations. It is not every day that one cherishes stepping on camel doo-doo.

By Ariunaa Jargalsaikhan
Published in UB Post on September 13, 2021

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