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OtGO: Immersive Painting for Global Viewer, an essay by Prof. Dr. Uranchimeg Tsultemin

Met trots presenteren we de publicatie ‘OtGO: Immersive Painting for Global Viewer’, geschreven door Prof. Dr. Uranchimeg (Orna) Tsultemin. Zij is een baanbrekende wetenschapper in de kunstgeschiedenis met een MA en BA aan Mongolian University of Arts and Culture en PhD aan de University of California in Berkeley. Haar impactvolle werk is erkend met prestigieuze prijzen, waaronder de American Council of Learned Societies/Robert Ho Foundation Collaborative Research Award en de Fulbright/IIE Fellowship. In 2022-23 ontving ze de IU Presidential Arts and Humanities Fellowship. Met een opmerkelijk portfolio aan publicaties en ervaringen als curator, vormt zij het kunstlandschap op internationaal niveau. 

In deze publicatie hebben we ervoor gekozen om de originele vorm te behouden en deze in het Engels te publiceren. Door het werk in zijn oorspronkelijke taal te presenteren, behouden we de nuances, diepgang en impact van de auteur’s gedachten en ideeën zoals bedoeld door haar.

OtGO: Immersive Painting for Global Viewer

When writing about immersion and/in art, it is often understood as it is related to virtual reality and experience with digital art. However, a Mongolian painter OtGO (b. 1981), demonstrates with his paintings a different case. His multi-layered, richly colorful and lushly crowded compositions entice the viewers with their intentional complexity: visuality here, as art historian Whitney Davis would have put it, “constitutes a picture of the world as world-seeing.”1

Fig. 1. Taifun

The first impression of OtGO’s work is the sheer grandiosity of the picture, with or without their dimensions. His works overwhelm the viewer with the intensity of their lush figuration, and immediately require various levels of viewing ranging from panoramic snapshots from distance and close and private viewing of numerous details. In the Taifun (fig. 1), one sees at the first encounter a composition of entangled figures configured into a visual vortex of equine movement2. The dynamics of infinite movement and the color arrangement instantly drive the viewer into a closer engagement with the picture: from panoramic immersion, one moves to a private exploration, here focused on numerous tiny horses. For an erudite viewer familiar with Mongolian motifs, these stylized horses are based on images of Mongolian petroglyphs and rock art, which is the heritage of the artist himself. The painting creates a captivating optical effect that effortlessly moves the viewing experience from one level of immersion to another, back and forth and non-stop, without much strenuous coercion effortlessly engaging the viewer.

Fig. 3. detail with Coronavirus images on the octopus head

A Mongolian-born artist, OtGO often uses depictions of horses in his art, a frequent motif for many Mongolian artists3. Trained in Mongolia, however, he has moved beyond the concerns of tradition and is rather engaged in the global issues of urbanization, cultural degradation, neoliberalism, and the ongoing pandemic. His triptych, wittily titled after a well-known Biblical theme, Last Supper (fig. 2), is a shocking depiction of all sorts but one specific culture. By depicting a monstrous figure of all-prevailing octopus––a creature that is completely absent from his native Mongolia–-the work provides a curious puzzle at the first glance. The menacing octopus dominates all three compositions, yet a close up view reveals the sea monster is built of countless tiny figures of monkeys seated in a long row with a plate and a glass, and a human skull on the long table in front of them. Clutching the skulls in their hands, they are surrounded by naked human bodies, and numerous grey human figures, the ghostly appearance of whom undoubtedly indicate the presence of death. Further indicators of death and tragedy include mountains of human skulls and of these ghostly bodies, where the monkeys are seen still actively piling and building more mountains of human death. The gigantic head of this octopus consists of SARS-CoV-2 virus images that have caused the COVID-19 pandemic and which are now permeating all three compositions (fig. 3). Visuality in these paintings lends us at an image of the world and the world-recognition4 as the pandemic-hit tragedy, where no cultures are distinguished, and where the Biblical line is used to complement the world-seeing concerned with death. Gigantic size of this triptych measuring up to four meters in length is a visual cry-out for the consequences of human actions that have led to an amounting death toll of the coronavirus victims worldwide ongoing since its onset in December 2019.

Fig. 4. Slavery-1

Fig. 5. Slavery-2

Indeed, OtGO’s paintings often consist of several compositions forming together a large whole. Another example of this approach is his Slavery (fig. 4-5), where several large canvases are dedicated to the topic of slavery and equity and are supplemented by a set of artworks placed in a continuous line. This is a powerful installation that aims to build a narrative of inclusion and homage to the repressed in the past and projecting into the turmoil present. A panoramic view of the installation shows a throng of paintings dominated in a sombre, dark red color, and filled with numerous tiny images, which include naked human bodies, the artist’s hand prints, countless bisons, mountains of buffalo skulls, and portraits of Native Americans (fig. 6), all of which were inspired by real events taken place in the 19th century. OtGO’s own perspectives on history are here assembled in this longitudinal work: here the slaves brought from Africa are gathered with bison-hunting American Indians, where these very animals (bisons) were extirpated by the new Western settlers to control the indigenous population, thereby the freedom of all these disparate communities was cut short and exploited. The entire composition wraps up the whole room in these sombre paintings, where the viewer finds themselves engulfed in the tragic spirit of the past era which has its lasting continuity into our present. There is no easy escape from this room: the spectator is intentionally surrounded by the work, as it is installed on all four walls to dramatically enhance the feeling of being absorbed and overwhelmed by it.5

Fig. 6. Slavery-2, detail of a Native American

A similar approach can be seen in the large painting set Antarctic Panorama (fig. 7), which consists of twelve separately drawn compositions. Moved by his learning of the history that endangered and nearly extinguished penguins, hunted for their fat to use in candles in the nineteenth century and now for food and fishing bait, OtGO decided to make another “homage” in his own words, to these exploited creatures6. A panoramic, distance view of the installation reveals a composition built with cold tones and light hues and shows a flow of huddling penguins joining together in their large rookeries. Known for being social birds who breed in colonies, they are flightless and are tolerant to human presence, all of which continues to be used against them to hunt them down in large numbers7. Seen for a distance as a monumental installation of white lines demarcating the movement of huddling penguins, the close-up view reveals stunning details of countless number of these crowded birds, dotted with a huge number of miniscule specks additionally superimposed by thin vertical lines of white paint. Their eyes are accentuated in glowing yellowish highlights—alerting and concerning for the viewers–– while their innumerable bodies appear as endlessly buzzing through a repetition of infinitude of black lines (fig. 8). Without any dependence on a digital device, the artist still creates a sensation of virtuality through what artist Joseph Nechvatal calls as “optic”, or “an aesthetic optical perception” for an embodied and engaged immersion in and experience of this visuality8. Here, and especially in his Slavery installation, the artist has created, in Nechvatal’s words, an aesthetic immersive enclosure––aesthetically and informationally intense––that “invite ontological self-modification via the immersant’s participation in the creative process.”9 The experience here is not like in VR rooms, and yet, the immersant’s game of “in and out” is arguably still in full force with the ultimate outcome in a focused attention on inner, developing, self-programmable selfhood.”10 These works navigate the optical perception through layers of pictorial configurations, and it is through these constant shifts in vision, vibrations caused by countless transient forms that move the eyes from tiny to monumental proportions, that the viewer is persistently kept in evolvement of ever more perfect eyes within a cosmos in which there is always something  more to be seen.”11

Fig. 7. Antarctic Panorama

Moving consciously beyond cultural boundaries and towards global conversations that are dire and relevant to any audience, OtGO enables an engaged viewership and the joy of the changing perspectives moving through the installations, just as one in a real world. The visuality in his works invite for a penetrative viewing that triggers the cycle of perceiving “form to symbol, of image to “discourse,” of the sensible to the intelligible, and round again.”12 Through the aesthetic immersion in OtGO’s art, the audience is able to experience the pictorial space as never an alternative but acute reality, where the viewer can always have a voice.

Fig. 8. Antarctic Panorama, detail

1 Whitney Davis, “Visuality and Pictoriality” in RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, Autumn, 2004, No. 46, Polemical Objects (Autumn, 2004), pp. 9-31, esp. p. 10.

2 There are several interesting works with the motif of tiny horse figurines. See, for instance, an earlier version of the same theme here: 

3 See, for other examples, recent works, such as Andermatt (2022), see here:

4 Davis, 9

5 Caro Verbeek discusses a similar sensation of a viewer’s engulfed experience within an installation of Henri Matisse’s paper-cut panels placed on two walls of the room. See Verbeek, “Matisse’s Installation of “La perruche et la sirène” as an Environment: An “Immersive” Experience”, Master Drawings, Summer 2012, Vol. 50, No. 2, “Modern & Contemporary Drawings” (Summer 2012), pp. 187-192.

6 For more on the impact of hunting and environmental crises on penguins, see Mike Bingham, Threats to Penguins, published here: 

7 Ibid. According to Bingham, penguins were also used for fuel and thrown into burning fire while still alive. 

8 Joseph Nechvatal, “Towards an Immersive Intelligence” in Leonardo Vol. 34, 2001, pp. 417-422.

9 Here Nechvatal refers to Kendall Walton’s theory of make-believe. Nechvatal, 418. 

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid.

12 Davis, 10.


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