Jennifer Wen Ma Transforms PGH into “A Winter Landscape Cradling Bits of Sparkle”

Published On February 23, 2015 | By Leah Kennedy | The Arts

Photo Credits: Jennifer Wen Ma

Set against the blustery Pittsburgh cityscape, Market Square visitors will now be encompassed by an enchanting forest display upon their arrival, thanks to artist Jennifer Wen Ma. Wen Ma and her team set out to accomplish her latest art installation in the heart of the city, and for several weeks, they braved the frigid temperatures, bitter cold winds, and lingering tundra to construct an immaculate live art display.

Ma titled the installation, A Winter Landscape Cradling Bits of Sparkle, and truthfully, it couldn’t have been a more fitting description to parallel the wintry Pittsburgh atmosphere – a cold city snowglobe of landscapes, architecture, and people, all bearing a light, semi-permanent dusting of sparkling snow.

winter6Last Thursday, we attended the artist talk and opening reception to learn more about Ma’s past and current endeavors, as well as the story of her journey to Pittsburgh and how the installation came to life. She spoke of her travels to Beijing, Japan, and Brazil, among other places, all of where she’s constructed similar art installations using locally grown sources and materials.

In Pittsburgh, Ma and her team collected an abundance of weeping willows, bamboos, evergreens, and flowering fruit trees, coating them with several layers of black Chinese charcoal ink to create a state of muted growth. Over the course of the exhibition, flower buds and bits of green will emerge from the plants and through the ink, showing a triumphant resilience to the brutal winter weather; emulating the changing of the seasons and the glowing ambiance of spring in the air. The process is meant to be subtle and slow moving, so as to appreciate the emergence of energy and evolutionary stages within the plants. Several reflective, glass balls (pictured above-right) are also placed throughout the forest, serving as symbols of the creative bursts of energy that get us through our “dark times.”

“The harshness of winter, history of Pittsburgh, and personal need for rest and quietude, served as the main inspirations for this work,” stated Ma. “I wanted to create an installation that linked these elements and emphasized the powerful life force that renews. This is the force that pulls blossoms from a frosted tree branch in the Spring, lifts a city from economic decline by encouraging innovative industry, and motivates people to re-emerge from a private slumber to embrace the creative energy within.”

Jennifer Wen Ma is a visual artist striving to bring together unlikely elements in a single piece, creating works with poetic motifs. Her interdisciplinary practices bridge varied media such as drawing, video, installation, design, performance, theatre, and public art. Ma was one of sevwinter2en members of the core creative team for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and the chief designer for visual and special effects. She received an Emmy for the US broadcast of the ceremony. Readers can visit her website for a full list of her varied works and accomplishments.

For the past three years, the Market Square Public Art Program has provided innovative art installations and displays downtown, including Congregation (2014), an interactive kinetic video and sound installation created by UK-based media artists, KMA, and designed and choreographed for pedestrian performers; and the Weekend of Public Art (2013), a series of events highlighting unique public art in Downtown Pittsburgh, including a performance by the Zany Umbrella Circus and a film screening provided by the Sisters of Lattice.

All projects thus far have been made possible through generous funding from The Heinz Endowments, Colcom Foundation, Richard King Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, as well as an anonymous donor. Local production support is also provided by Flyspace Productions and the Office of Public Art.

A Winter Landscape Cradling Bits of Sparkle is currently open and free to the public through April 12. If you’re feeling sluggish, need a boost of inspiration, or simply feel like winter is never going to end, Ma’s exhibition will surely provide you with the spark of hope for which you’ve been searching.

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