Eriko Tsogo often tells the story of her father’s art career in Mongolia. Tsogtsaikhan “Tsogo” Mijid’s enthusiasm for experimental, expressionist painting clashed with the communist regime’s preference for realism, resulting in his frequent censorship. So it delights Eriko that 22 years after immigrating to the Mile High City, her father, mother, and sister all joined her under the moniker Betart Collective to build a space inside Convergence Station, Meow Wolf’s new installation in Denver.
More than 300 artists created 72 exhibits that form a cohesive narrative about a cosmic merging of worlds. No work captures that union quite like the family’s contribution, called “Mongovoo Temple”—a multisensory room that draws from Mongolia’s cultural, religious, and political histories. One of the few cross-generational teams with work in Convergence Station, the group is unpacking a shared memory of home. “‘Mongovoo’ transcends personal ego,” Eriko says of the room, which is lined with 200 elaborate white fiberglass masks. “It’s not just a Betart Collective project—it’s a Mongolian project.” We journeyed through the wormhole to see the exhibit through the family’s eyes.
The sacred meaning behind the masks:
Tsogtsaikhan “Tsogo” Mijid: I studied Tsam mask making in Mongolia. They’re part of a traditional Buddhist dance ceremony, where lamas [monks] wear them and perform choreography and meditative chanting. There are 108 different Tsams that each embody a Buddhist god. Making them was complicated, because the country was communist then.
[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 had to visit a lama in secret.
Blending ancient traditions and new media:
Eriko Tsogo: Tsam masks are usually ornate, with painting and varnish, and then they’re decorated with things like yak hair. We kept the masks white so they reflect the light. My younger sister, AnuJen, designed the lighting and soundscapes.
AnuJen “Jennifer” Tsogo: I mixed together sounds that were reminiscent of the Mongolian countryside. You can hear streams and the roar of wildfires. I layered that with Mongolian throat singing. We wanted to make it feel like traveling through time to an ancient ritual.
Why you must enter “Mongovoo Temple” via a snake-filled doorway:
Batkhishig “Baja” Batochir (Eriko and Jennifer’s mother): In Mongolia, snakes represent mystery and intelligence. You have to have bravery and curiosity to pass through the snake door and enter “Mongovoo”—even though they’re made of velour and stuffed with wool.
Eriko: My mother studied drama in college, and now she sews puppets for the Mongolian Culture and Heritage Center of Colorado, which my family started in 2003 to nurture Mongolian performing and fine art. Because of her experience with sewing, she was in charge of the room’s textiles.
On adhering to fire codes:
Eriko: Tsam masks are often made out of papier-mâché or kaolin clay. But we made the masks in “Mongovoo” from fiberglass approved by the fire department. We painstakingly pressed it into the molds in our basement over the course of three or four months. You can see the tiny handmade flaws in each one, but that’s what makes them original.
The challenges and rewards of working within a family of artists:
Jennifer: Creatives always have their visions. Everyone just had a lot of ideas. So, finding a common ground was challenging in the beginning.
Eriko: This is the biggest collaboration we’ve ever done as a family. But everyone had a role to play, and everyone respected one another’s points of view. I’m really proud that we did this together.
History Made Mystery
Pieces of Denver lore appear throughout Meow Wolf’s new location.
Four imaginary worlds collide in Convergence Station—but real-life pieces of the Centennial State can be found among the artistically rendered result, thanks to the 110-plus contributing Colorado creatives. “Meow Wolf wants to reflect the environment it’s in,” says Annie Geimer, the collective’s Denver artists liaison. Working with locals puts community influence on display: “The state is very present in the final product,” Geimer says.
But only if you look closely. Meow Wolf’s team, loath to show too much of its paint-speckled hand, hasn’t publicized every reference, but the ones we do know about will appeal to longtime Coloradans. Take, for example, the work of Andrew Novick, an ephemera collector. He collaborated with metal artist Pamela Webb and illustrator Robert Ayala to re-create six iconic signs from now-defunct local businesses, such as the Celebrity Sports Center in Glendale. Another piece, “Melting of the Mines” by Denver’s Kia Neill, uses photographs of mineral excavation sites from around the state.
The exhibit even pays homage to one of Denver’s most impactful protests: A vintage RTD bus bursts through a wall, a tribute to the Gang of 19, disability rights activists who blocked RTD bus routes in 1978 to demand public transportation be made more accessible. And, of course, signage on the bus’ front indicates that it’s on the Sun Valley route—a nod to the neighborhood Convergence Station will call home long into the future.