On May 24, the Mongolian public will cast their ballots for president, but unlike past elections one artists’ group has thrown their paper hats into the ring, the Art Party.
Created by the Blue Sun Artists Group, this site-specific performance features one of their own campaigning under the banner of the fictitious “Art Party.” In the best tradition of Duchamp and Fluxus, the Art Party held a press conference two weeks ago and hit the streets rallying votes.
With some of the material printed in English, the international art language, and most of the street materials printed in Russian, which is commonly understood in the country, the Art Party took to the streets with their message and exposed the populace to their aesthetic politics.
While the event may seem conventional in the West, where for decades fictional candidates have basked in the electoral spotlight in order to convey their artistic message (most recently Stephen Colbert), in Mongolia–and, in fact, most of Asia–it is far from the norm.
Coincidentally, my personal favorite fictional candidate is Mr. Peanut (aka Vincent Trasov), who ran as mayor of Vancouver in 1974 in a well-publicized campaign that the artist says was “a symbol for the collective aspirations of the art community.” His art platform was: P for Performance, E for Elegance, A for Art, N for Nonsense, U for Uniqueness and T for Talent. Fittingly, American author William S. Burroughs, a guest in Vancouver at the time, endorsed his candidacy. Sadly, Mr. Peanut lost the election, while winning our hearts!
The current Mongolian campaign performance is particularly poignant in this land snugly fit between two major autocratic states, China and Russia. Democracy arrived to Mongolia in 1990 but its execution hasn’t always ensured peace.
During last year’s Mongolian elections, accusations of voter fraud ignited protests which deteriorated into a riot that left five people dead, 329 injured, 1,000 detained and two prominent buildings, including a wing of the Mongolian Museum of Modern Art, near the central square in ruins (pictured below, click to enlarge)–more info about the event here via ArtDaily.org.
I spoke to Ellen Pearlman–who was in Mongolia on a Prince Claus Trust grant through the Open Academy and served as the facilitator for the performance–to explain the Blue Sun Artists Group’s electoral performance:
About the Art Party candidacy, I think it is a huge leap for Mongolians and an even larger leap for Mongolian artists. Please remember until 1990 Mongolia was under Soviet rule, and truly modern art did not enter Mongolia until 1996.
As a free democratic state surrounded by China, Russia and the ‘Stans (Krygstan, Kazakstan, etc.) politics and especially the elections are a very sensitive matter. To have artists participate in a performance about the electoral process without any repercussions and be embraced by a perplexed and amused media and nation is staggering. And for the Blue Sun group to have done it in such a smart and professional style is even more amazing.
The performance featured an accompanying installation, which included specially designed hats, which to my eyes seem equal parts playful and absurd.
Views of the Art Party Installation in Ulan Bator, Mongolia
I asked Ellen if there was any particular reason that the 2008 electoral protests targeted the Mongolian Modern Art Gallery and what it meant for the artists staging this campaign:
For the artists to do this was cathartic, there was some kind of comment about last year[‘s destruction of the Modern Art Gallery] buried in there as well in a non-overt way.
But why the Modern Art Gallery, I insisted:
Why? They are a nomadic people in their hearts, very passionate and the losing party got drunk on vodka and set the fire. There is no “why.” Very Zen. They just did it. Boom. We’re pissed, down with the government, set the fire, end story.
All photos courtesy Ellen Pearlman