Eriko Tsogo and his family bring Mongolia to Meow Wolf

Eriko Tsogo as his alter ego, Bounce Back Qween. Photo by Sarah Banks

Compass

The artist team built the “Mongovoo Temple,” a synthesis of Mongolian culture and religion, in Meow Wolf’s new permanent exhibition in Denver.


Eriko Tsogo often recounts his father’s artistic career in Mongolia. Tsogtsaikhan “Tsogo” Mijid’s enthusiasm for experimental and expressionist painting clashed with the Communist regime’s preference for realism, resulting in its frequent censorship. So it’s a pleasure for Eriko that 22 years after immigrating to Mile High City, her father, mother and sister all joined her under the nickname Betart Collective to build a space inside Convergence Station, Meow Wolf’s new facility in Denver.

Over 300 artists have created 72 exhibitions that form a cohesive narrative of a cosmic fusion of worlds. No work captures this union as much as the contribution of the family, called “Mongovoo Temple” – a multisensory room that draws inspiration from the cultural, religious and political history of Mongolia. One of the few intergenerational teams to work at Convergence Station, the group unwraps a shared memory from home. “’Mongovoo’ transcends personal ego,” Eriko says of the room, which is lined with 200 elaborate white fiberglass masks. “It’s not just a project of the Betart collective, it’s a Mongolian project.” We walked through the wormhole to see the exhibit through the eyes of the family.

Photo by Sarah Banks

The sacred meaning behind the masks:

Tsogtsaikhan “Tsogo” Mijid: I studied the making of Tsam masks in Mongolia. They are part of a traditional Buddhist dance ceremony, where the lamas [monks] wear them and perform meditative choreography and songs. There are 108 different Tsams who each embody a Buddhist god. Making them was complicated, because the country was then communist. [Editor’s note: The Soviet Union backed the Mongolian People’s Republic when it first gained power in the 1920s, and Joseph Stalin ordered all Buddhist institutions be disbanded.] We were to visit a llama in secret.

Mixing old traditions and new media:

Eriko Tsogo: Tsam masks are usually adorned, with paint and varnish, and then they are decorated with things like yak hair. We kept the white masks to reflect the light. My younger sister, AnuJen, designed the lighting and soundscapes.
AnuJen “Jennifer” Tsogo: I mixed sounds reminiscent of the Mongolian countryside. You can hear the streams and the roar of forest fires. I superimposed this with the Mongolian throat singing. We wanted to give the impression of traveling back in time to an ancient ritual.

Why you have to enter the “Mongovoo Temple” through a door full of snakes:

Batkhishig “Baja” Batochir (mother of Eriko and Jennifer): In Mongolia, snakes represent mystery and intelligence. It takes courage and curiosity to go through the serpent’s door and enter “Mongovoo”, even if they are made of velvet and stuffed with wool.
Eriko: My mom studied drama in college, and now she sews puppets for the Colorado Mongolian Culture and Heritage Center, which my family founded in 2003 to promote the performing and fine arts. Mongols. From her experience in sewing, she took care of the textiles of the room.

By adhering to fire prevention codes:

Eriko: Tsam masks are often made from papier-mâché or kaolin clay. But we made the “Mongovoo” masks from firefighter approved fiberglass. We carefully pressed it into the molds in our basement for three or four months. You can see the little handmade flaws in each one, but that’s what makes them original.

The challenges and benefits of working within a family of artists:

Jennifer: Creatives always have their visions. Everyone just had a lot of ideas. So, finding common ground was difficult at first.
Eriko: This is the biggest collaboration we have ever made as a family. But each had a role to play and each respected the other’s point of view. I’m really proud that we did this together.


The story has become a mystery

Pieces of Denver lore appear in Meow Wolf’s new location.

Photo by Kennedy Cottrell / Courtesy of Meow Wolf

Four make-believe worlds collide in Convergence Station, but actual pieces of the Centennial State can be found among the artistically rendered result, courtesy of more than 110 Colorado designers. “Meow Wolf wants to reflect the environment in which he finds himself,” explains Annie Geimer, the artist liaison with the Denver collective. Working with the locals highlights the influence of the community: “The state is very much in the end product,” says Geimer.

But only if you look closely. The Meow Wolf team, reluctant to show their paint-speckled hand too much, haven’t released all the references, but the ones we know will appeal to longtime Coloradans. Take, for example, the work of Andrew Novick, a collector of ephemera. He collaborated with metallurgical artist Pamela Webb and illustrator Robert Ayala to recreate six iconic signs of local businesses that are no longer in existence, such as the Celebrity Sports Center in Glendale. Another piece, “Melting of the Mines” by Kia Neill of Denver, uses photographs of mineral excavation sites from across the state.

The exhibit even pays homage to one of Denver’s most impactful protests: Vintage RTD bus bursts through wall, a tribute to the Gang of 19, disability rights activists who blocked lines from RTD bus in 1978 to demand that public transport be made more accessible. And, of course, the signage on the front of the bus indicates that it is on Sun Valley Road, a nod to the neighborhood convergence station that will be relocating long into the future.

This article appeared in the October 2021 issue of 5280.

Angela Ufheil

Angela Ufheil

Angela Ufheil co-creates the Compass, Adventure and Culture sections of 5280 and writes for 5280.com.

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