[Meeting Intellectuals in the Spring Hills]Review | Jennifer Wen Ma: Curiosity Killed the Cat, Made the Artist

For the 21st Lecture of "Meeting Intellectuals in the Spring Hills" Lecture Series, we invited visual artist Jennifer Wen Ma to be our guest. In this lecture, Jennifer Wen Ma showed us works from more than a decade of devotion to the art practice. She explained to us the origin of her creation -- curiosity, and how it contributed to her creative process.


Review of the Lecture

Jennifer shared with us the origin of a core element in her work—ink, and how it connects multiple projects in different venues for over ten years. She ultimately highlights a driving force in her creative process—curiosity. From the dedication in the materiality of ink, to the conceptual expressions of ink, curiosity peaked like new green sprouts coming up from under the coverage of ink, stimulating creativity, shaping the world of the artist.
Curiosity drove Jennifer to explore new ways to reveal the materiality of ink. She integrated ink into nature, with injections of her concepts and expressions.

△ Germinating Thoughts

After a series of installations, Jennifer left the established framework of ink and plant series and entered into the arena of theatre and opera, which she had not worked in previously. The protagonist of the installation opera Paradise Interrupted chose to pursue self-realization, after a sequence of experiences that were unveiled on stage. Distilled into being atop a ripple in a pool of ink, she carries on the path of continued growth. The process of adapting and deconstructing traditional kunqu and western opera has been an invaluable experience for the artist.


△ An Installation Opera, Paradise Interrupted


Her curiosity is endless with no boundaries. It covers from philosophical self-expression to social justice issues that touches everyone. If you can imagine it, you can realize it. 
"Observe the world with a child-like curiosity. Keep the discovery and reflection it brings in your mind. And one day you'll find your life transformed, like these butterfly sculptures, full of vibrant vitality. You can find your passion and it turns into a lifelong career."


△ A Metamorphosis: No End to End


Selection of Questions and Answers

Q:Do you think that artworks must first touch yourself deeply?

A:Of course. You must have that strong desire to share something before it can resonate with the audience . Sometimes my works are quite large in scale and it may take one or two year or more time to realize, in the process I may lose sight of the starting point. When that happens, I remind myself how this work touched me at the beginning. I go back to the point it moved me deep inside, where my heart skipped a beat at the idea's inception, and the work must enable the audience to feel the same. Only in this way is the work imbued with a real soul.

Q:In your opinion, what kind of exhibition is worth visiting?

A:I think there is no absolute standard answer to this question. You don't need to be so goal-oriented to enjoy an exhibition. As long as it sparks your curiosity and interest, go and experience it.


Q:Can students majoring in business enter the art industry?

A:It's possible, everyone could do it. The Master of Fine Arts school I teach in New York has students from all sorts of different undergraduate degrees. The key is whether you have sharp observation and analytical skills, unique expressions and perspectives, and have a passion for the pursuit of art. Anything is possible if you are passionate.

Q:Do you like literature? What is the relationship between literature and art?

A:I love literature. I loved to write as a child, but after moving to the United States, language that had been my strength became my weakness and I felt quite lost. Looking for other ways of expression, I took the path of visual art. Books remain very important for my artistic journey and reading is my second favorite thing after making art.


For the full version of the lecture, please click the link to log in the campus account to watch the video.


About the Guest


Jennifer Wen Ma (1973, Beijing, China) is a visual artist who moved to the United States in 1986, and received the Master of Fine Art degree in 1999 from Pratt Institute, New York. Ma works and lives between New York and Beijing. Ma's interdisciplinary practice bridges varied media such as installation, drawing, video, public art, design, performance, and theatre; often bringing together unexpected elements in a single piece, creating sensitive, poetic and poignant works.

Projects include Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, Charleston, 2019; Tang Contemporary Art, Beijing, 2018; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2017; Cass Sculpture Foundation; Qatar Museums, 2016; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Flux Projects, Atlanta; Market Square Public Art Program, Pittsburgh, 2015; 5x5 Monument Park, Washington DC; Vancouver Art Gallery, 2014; Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, New York, 2013; Cambio Cultural, Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 2013; Performa 13, New York, 2013; Hanart Square, Hong Kong, 2013; Ullens Center For Contemporary Art, Beijing, 2012; Eslite Gallery, Taipei, 2012; The Republic of China Centennial Grand Countdown, Taipei, 2010; Biennale of Sydney, 2010; Echigo-Tsumari Triennial, Japan, 2009; The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, 2009; Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain, 2009; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2008; the National Art Museum of China, Beijing, 2008, and others.

In 2015, Ma conceived, co-wrote, visually designed and directed installation opera Paradise Interrupted. It was previewed at the Temple of Dendur, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and had its premiere at Spoleto Festival USA, Charleston, in 2015. It was performed at Lincoln Center Festival, New York, and Singapore International Festival of Arts in 2016; National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts, Kaohsiung, and National Theatre and Concert Hall, Taipei in 2018; and MGM Cotai Theatre, 2019. In 2008, Ma was one of seven members on the core creative team for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics, and the chief designer for visual and special effects. Public art projects include Nature and Man in Rhapsody of Light at the Water Cube, The National Aquatic Center, Beijing, 2013; In-Between World—Daydream Nation, Digital Beijing Building, 2008; Aeolian Garden, city of Colle di Val d'Elsa, Italy, 2005, among others.

Ma was a recipient of the 2019 Anonymous Was a Woman Award, the "Music Theatre NOW" Award in 2016, and an Emmy Award for the US broadcast of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony in 2008.

Meeting Intellectuals in the Spring Hills

"Meeting Intellectuals in the Spring Hills" is one of the University's lecture series where the University will invite social elites in such fields as culture and arts to share with our students in form of salon or lecture to promote a discussion of thought-provoking issues or soul-searching experiences. During the lectures, everyone will have a chance to listen and respond to their world views, their aspirations, and intellectual taste in life.


University Arts Centre


To bring students closer to culture and art
To make the "DREAM" come true