Born in Ulaanbaatar, artist Eriko Tsogo is forever a traveler in thought and actions, and though she eventually settled with her family among metro Denver’s large Mongolian community, Tsogo still longs to bridge the opposing cultures with which she’s grown up. It informs her creative life work and her worldview, resulting in imagery steeped in tradition but hurtling free-form through an unsettled life. And Tsogo, who took after her artist father to become one herself, is also a woman of action, with numerous culturally related projects she describes below, including a November 3 exhibition created in collaboration with Korean artist Sammy Lee (details below). Go for a ride and cross the steppes with Tsogo on the roadway of the Colorado Creatives questionnaire.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Eriko Tsogo: I have always wanted to be a bear since the age of three.
I take muse at the moment of disagreement and create by the call of my ancestor spirits. My art is birthed out of a mix of pain, inspiration and personal experiences derived from the collective human condition. I find it most inspirational to be uncomfortable. Through line, I try to present a guide for how one can remedy/transform the soul from suffering to resilience and authentic personal self-empowerment.
I draw much influence from juxtaposing life moments that challenge the social and metaphysical margins of the seen and unseen worlds. I am intrigued by the ugly, the strange, the wrong, the unknown. I have a habit of consciously or sometimes subconsciously placing myself between polar, extreme experiences from which I absorb, store and draw an infinite amount of unique inspirations, themes and images.
My artistic process derives from a balance of intuitive and concept-driven method of experimental creation. In my drawings, I seek to create visual tension through automatic and intended mark-making. I like to fuse binary concepts and techniques of representation, from contrasting languages of wet and dry textures, precision and chaos, into stimulatory layers as to create conceptual proximity between forces of opposition and displacement.
I experience my artistic production as an act of creative play between subject and object, and aim for a convulsive spontaneity in the journey of their creation. Similarly, I express my ideas and concepts through cross-disciplinary mediums of painting, writing, installation, multimedia and filmmaking.
Alongside visual art, cinema is a huge part of my life and how I perceive the world. I’m currently working on completing my first international feature documentary animation film project taking place between Colorado and Mongolia. I am currently in the pre-production stages for my film.
My art is a transparent extension of my life and my perpetual search to identify and empower through the power of empathy and inspiration.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
My next party will take place in the sky among the clouds. I would invite the battle of minds between my three favorite people — either a simple Mongolian herdsman from 1162 or Gautama Buddha, Salvador Dalí and Jacques Lacan, because I am curious to find out how the different schools of Eastern and Western psychology coincide and conflict with one another. We would then proceed to straddle our wind horses and fly throughout the galaxy as we talk about everything from the secrets of the universe to the invention of Irish Spring soap.
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
Is it better to be a big fish in a small pond or a little fish in a big pond?
Is it better to be a small fish in a small pond or a big fish in a big pond?
In trying to answer this question I came up with two other questions because: The best thing about Denver’s local creative community in the arts is too much magic; the community is active, with a vibrant buzzing feel to it. There is a synchronized momentum and energy which can sometimes feel tight-knit and cliquey, with many talented old local and new creative transplants arriving, but with limited representation, exhibition and career development opportunities. I would always like to see more diversity and inclusivity in the local creative community; let there be more opportunities for underrepresented local artists of color and minorities.
How about globally?
If a seed does not grow, do you change the seed or the environment?
The best and worst quality of the global art community is competition. Best would be the infinite influx and exchange of artists, career development and networking opportunities. The worst would be commercial art-world trends and the pressure it influences over local reservoirs and the très-chic critics speaking très chic, too sophisticated for the sophisticated.
Overall, I wish there was more opportunity locally, nationally and internationally for women artists to showcase their talent, to be seen and heard. I wish for more galleries, museums and art venues on all levels to support women artists, who have so much to give and say.
If you died tomorrow, what or whom would you come back as?
If I died tomorrow, I do not wish to come back into the human form in the same world of desire. I want to experience a completely different realm, another consciousness. I aspire to reincarnate into a Tenger [Sky] spirit or any form of bird.
How do your nomadic roots fuel your worldview and creative life?
I am the last of the fast-vanishing nomadic Mongol ethnicity. Being born into a nomadic culture, I lived on the move with my family since a young age. Compared to sedentary cultures, my initial understanding of the psychology of space exists without parameters.
I am a Mongolian-American cross-disciplinary artist merging visual art and film, born on the vast steppes of Mongolia. I grew up in societies of parallel cultural and political/societal dysfunction, having been raised in Hungary and immigrating to the United States with my family at the age of eight.
My identity as a first-generation Mongolian-American migrant allows a life of duality where opposing values and norms of Eastern and Western spiritual and social traditions constantly clash and fuse, creating a marginal periphery of absent power origin. My ever-revolving dual identity as a first-generation Mongolian-American nomadic voyeur profoundly shapes my artistic process. I am interested in expressing the embattled emotional middle space of the marginal human devoid of identity. I seek to explore the conflicting psycho-spiritual, cultural and disjointed effects of globalization on marginalized identities with attention to women’s issues, as one who perpetually lives both in war and peace within two worlds, both of which are more or less a stranger.
You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?
Foremost on my bucket list is visiting my country. I have been unable to go back to Mongolia for over nineteen years because of issues related to my documents. I have been a DACA applicant since 2013, and although I can legally work in the U.S., I, along with millions of other Dreamers, continue to suffer from a politically and socially unpredictable future in America. I eagerly await the day I can visit Mongolia, get closure/inspiration and ail the aching void in heart.
Beyond that, to survive and thrive.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
Denver: Love it. I am based in Denver but live bi-coastally. I’m here because of its beauty! Nature, energy, family, community, familiarity. Colorado is my home, weather-wise very reminiscent of Mongolia. My family, relatives and friends are based in Denver. Also, Colorado has a special connection to Mongolia: Ulaanbaatar and Denver are Sister Cities, which is a big reason why Mongolian immigrants gravitate here.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Tsogo Mijid is my father, an artist and Colorado creative based in Denver. He is a talented artist with an interesting history. He founded the Mongolian Culture and Heritage Center of Colorado grassroots organization in 2004 and continues to be highly active in his work to help the Mongolian community in Colorado. Tsogo’s art is infinite, expressive, mystical, raw. In 2009, he created “Tulga,” a twenty-foot public sculpture erected at Ulaanbaatar Park in the Lowry neighborhood and became the first Mongolian-American artist to have created a public sculpture in the U.S.
I met Joshua Mulder in 2015 at the Shambhala Mountain Center. He continues to work and live up at SMC as the stupa director. Joshua is the artist and main visionary behind the creation of the center's Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, and he designed and created the giant Buddha statue and other deity statues in the stupa. Joshua is one of the most beautiful human beings I am honored to know.
Last but not least, I have always been in great admiration of Homare Ikeda’s paintings. I think he is a magical artist, and his imagery inspires me.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
Coming up for me in 2018 is my collaborative art show Saving Lions by Killing Them with Sammy Lee at Collective SML | k. The opening reception is Saturday, November 3 (details below). I am excited to be collaborating with Sammy for this show, as I have always admired her work.
In December, I have a two-week artist-residency program to complete at the Vermont Studio Center, where I will be working on animation work for my ongoing “Untitled Mongolia Film Project.”
In 2019, I am most excited to launch a program I have been working relentlessly to develop this year called the “International Yurt Art Residency.” In its preliminary year, the residency program will focus on offering one- to three- month rural, nomadic Mongolian yurt dwelling residential experiences to Colorado artists, within Colorado, with the future goal of facilitating an international artist exchange between Colorado and Mongolia.
I am part of an exciting group of women artists called Women of Many Colors: A Glorious Collaboration, and we are due to have our big reveal show in the new year.
Also new next year for the Women’s March on Colorado, I will be hosting the “Healing Yurt” art workshop to help victims of sexual assault. I plan to continue implementing effective civic-engagement art projects to help activate and merge community and diversity through the power of art.
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Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
I wish for vibrant local Colorado creatives Drew Austin and Moe Gram to get noticed next year. Drew Austin is a talented artist and curator with exciting community projects in the works. Same goes for Moe Gram: She is the epitome of a renaissance woman — the hardest- working local woman artist, designer, educator and community organizer I know.
Odessa Denver hosts Saving Lions by Killing Them, a collaborative mixed-media installation by Sammy Lee and Eriko Tsogo, opening with a reception on Saturday, November 3, from 6 to 10 p.m. at Collective SML | k, 430 Santa Fe Drive. Saving Lions runs through November 29; learn more at Odessa Denver’s website.
Keep up with Eriko Tsogo and her projects online.