October of 2012, New York artists FAILE unveiled their sculpture Wolf Within at the site of the National Garden Park in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. The figure—a man cloaked in a wolf pelt, tearing away the remnants of a two piece suit in revelation—is a familiar one for those acquainted with FAILE’s work. Wolf Within was conceived on the brink of the 2008 financial crisis for a series of paintings that fused a decadent capitalist landscape with a lost but resurgent past. Images of native warriors set amidst gleaming skyscrapers opened the question of what we lose and gain in our pursuit for ever greater wealth, and figured the dangers of our entrenched political and economic systems.
For Western audiences, Wolf Within was a vivid illustration that the bull-market couldn’t last forever, and a world out of balance can only sustain itself for so long. Realized in 2012, in three dimensions, Wolf Within is a timely work for a Mongolian context. The figure’s suit invokes the influx of investors from around the world, and the wolf is, as ever, a potent symbol, a depiction of nature’s ferocious power and a reminder our environment and traditions cannot be forgotten.
FAILE collaborated on this project with the Mongolian Arts Council, the National Garden Park and the Tiger Translate program, which aims to bridge East and West through creative projects. The Mongolian Arts Council and Tiger Translate invited local sculptor and craftsman Batmunkh to realize a concept created by FAILE and add his personal interpretation to their sculpture, originally created with Charlie Becker. Wolf Within embodies the similarity of the challenges faced by fast-modernizing places around the world. It also calls to mind the incredible changes Mongolia now faces, as a mineral rich and quickly urbanizing country. Afterall, the fortunes of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital, increase as steadily as the mining of gold, copper, and uranium from sites like Oyu Tolgoi, shaking up a historically pastoral society. The consequences of this change are, of course, unknown, but Wolf Within is a reminder of nature’s strength, and its ambivalent dance with big money.