A cosmic vulnerability: the Mongolian Pavilion at ...

A cosmic vulnerability: the Mongolian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2022

They say that the soul of a shaman sits on the highest branches of the Cosmic Tree compared to the rest of the souls. A Journey through Vulnerability is the path curated by Gantuya Badamgarav for the Mongolian Pavilion, which this year registers its fourth annual participation to the renowned Venetian International Art Exhibition. Journey, in this case, is not only a term recalled by the title but also a word associated with the concept of shamanic transfer through the worlds of the invisible, concept to which Mongolia, nation where the deeply rooted millenary shamanic culture meets Buddhist teachings, is intimately bound.

Protagonists of the spaces are the works of Munkhtsetseg Jalkhaajav, known as Mugi. Born in 1967, Mugi is a prominent artist within Mongolia’s contemporary art scene and her researchsensitively investigates the complexity of the human being conceived as a particle of an all-encompassing wholeness, which nothing misses out, embracing the natural and animal realm.

The Pavilion experience is articulatedin three different moments, the first of which, Dream of Gazelle, recalls a barn-like environment. Healing Bed is the skeleton of a metallic bed that hosts the soft sculpture of a dormant gazelle, on the top of which a video projection shows some black and white moments that seem to give shape to the animal’s dreams while facing its fragilities. It is in this way that the artist seems to warn us that the dream dimension is in no way a prerogative of the human species:a gazelle dreams to the same extent of us and is able to process its weaknesses, like the human being does.

The subtle resonance between human and non-human realms takes further shape through the hybrid creatures with goat-like heads and female breasts that take over the second room. Cosmic body series is a group of soft sculptures realized by the artist in the past eight years which embody the idea of “cosmic body”, concept that takes inspiration from the Buddhist perspective which considers every living being only in its interrelation with the wholeness, in an impossible attempt to separate a singular entity from the web of connections with everything surrounding it. Mugi’s sinuous and bicephalous creatures are also an introspective and archetypical reflection on the feminine, through which the artist looks for her inner self and she finds herself outside the self, in a dialogue that moves away from human codes.

To resonate within the pavilion spaces are not only the languages of creatures belonging to apparently distant realms, but also the notes of the jaw harp, a little mouth harp that local shamans habituallyplay during their protection rituals and when they seek communication with the transient souls.

In a nation where most of the population still deliberately chooses to lead a nomadic life, the shaman (from the Siberian Tungus saman, someone who possesses the knowledge) is of fundamental importance and is really often consulted by the local community. This is the case of Miscarriage, the last room of the exhibition which hosts Keeper of Protector Bird. Within an intimate and homely environment, on a wooden chair a female figure holds a big bird on her lap whose long limbs wrap the woman like tentacles in a dark embrace. As Mircea Eliade noted in his work Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (Italian edition published by Edizioni Mediterranee in 1983) the bird was an animal of major importance to North Asian mythologies, because it is not only considered as a messenger, but also an intercessor between the divine and the human dimension, a creature which is synonymous with vital force and thus associated with notions of healing and rebirth.

North Asian shamans tell that the soul of the first shaman was hatched on the top of the Cosmic Tree by the mythical creature of the Mother-Bird. In the case of Mugi’s artwork in fact, the black bird recalls the shamanic rituals that pregnant women undergo in order to protect themselves from miscarriage, in the act of preserving and celebrating life at all costs.

In his essay The Disappearance of Rituals: A Topology of the Present (Italian edition published by Nottetempo in 2021) philosopher Byun-Chul Han describes rituals as symbolic actions that make «time habitable», and identifies the cause of the crisis of contemporary communities as a «crisis of resonance». Within social contexts always more deritualized and governed by a symbolical void that seems to vortically increase, the response of Mongolian Pavilion is an invitation, intimate and universal at once, to re-establish a resonance, to re-educate our eye to the perception of that invisible and powerful pattern in which the stories and lives of all creatures from all possible realms are inextricably interwoven.

The curator of the project is Gantuya Badamgarav, and the commissioner is Nomin Chinbat.

Elisabetta Tosti


Munkhtsetseg Jalkhaajav (Mugi), A Journey through Vulnerability
20/04/2022 – 27/11/2022
Mongolia Pavillon
Venice Biennale
calle S. Biasio, Castello 2131
30122 Venezia

Munkhtsetseg Jalkhaajav (Mugi), Healing Bed, 2019. Ph. Andrea Avezzù, courtesy La Biennale di Venezia

Munkhtsetseg Jalkhaajav (Mugi), Cosmic Body Series, 2014-2022. Ph. Avezzù, courtesy La Biennale di Venezia

Munkhtsetseg Jalkhaajav (Mugi), Keeper of Protector Bird,2017. Ph. Andrea Avezzù, courtesy La Biennale di Venezia

Munkhtsetseg Jalkhaajav (Mugi), Cosmic Body Series, 2014-2022. Ph. Andrea Avezzù, courtesy La Biennale di Venezia


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