Forty-Four Sunsets in a Day
Rotating sphere, moss and trees, ink, 100 meter long scroll
May 15 - June 13, 2013
Forty-Four Sunsets in a Day is composed of a small asteroid covered with exuberant plants painted entirely black with Chinese ink, spinning slowly to make 44 rotations a day. A 100-meter long ink scroll on the surrounding gallery walls provides a panoramic view of an arduous journey through multiple sunsets. Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince serves as the whimsical springboard for this installation with dark undertones.
Curatorial text by Johnson Chung
Jennifer Wen Ma's Forty-Four Sunsets In a Day marks the culmination of Hanart TZ Gallery's Ink Season. It follows on three shows of 'ink art' that started with Wang Dongling's calligraphy, then Zhang Hao's journeys of ideographs and Qiu Zhijie's landscapes of intellectual Mappings. Ma is presenting this intriguing installation/painting project at Hanart Square at the wake of a major work, a permanent light installation she has just created for the Water Cube of Beijing's Olympic park.
In Ma's work, a new turn is taken for the concept of ink. Instead of painting, the materiality of ink is made to speak directly, and raw Blackness is given a cultural voice. The artist is fascinated by ink's symbolic reference to the Blackness of 'mystery' (xuan) and the infinity of Void (wu ji), spoken often by traditional masters. This is not the nothingness that is the opposite of being, but the 'no-thing' that is itself a condition, a state of being. For this work Ma highlights the Substance of Blackness - Chinese writing ink, the soot that represents the repository of time, formed when vegetal life passed from living time to geological time, and is finally brought back to human life through cultural usage. For the artist, the mystery of Blackness and the void of timelessness find expression in the scholarly tradition of writing, and in Daoist mystical practices that see special symbolic significance in the color black.
Ma takes the substance of blackness, as cultural material, to confront its own biological source. The artist submerges living plants in this 'essence of soot', bringing ink back to the livingness that originally constituted its substance. By this she also blends livingness with its own eventual alchemistic being of ink. Ink, a cultural elixir, is here used literally to 'cultivate' its living descendent, and is treated as a cultural 'nutrient' that partakes in the growth of plants. In Ma's work, ink fulfills its use as a cultural 'paint' by transforming plants into art.
The orb of plants for Forty-Four Sunsets In a Day is painted black. The ink blocks the living sphere from all sources of light so new leaves must struggle to burst forth. Taking the hint from fine wine and coffee, the artist notes that the best fruits often come from stressed plants, caused, for example, by impoverished soil or lack of rain, and the plants give their best for their fruits to carry on their genes. Ma observes that her inked plants send out new green shoots as soon as possible to continue the process of photosynthesis in order to survive. The dynamics between a living organism and its ancestral 'soot' are in fact tests and threats that push its genes to fulfill its destiny.
The glory of green shoots that finally emerge out of the black void of this artwork fulfills the princely promise of glorious sunsets. The Little Prince promised us 44 sunsets as the orb spins and comes around at the end of each cycle. But we will have not just 44 sunsets each day; we will have them always so long as life persists through the darkness of night, fed by the nutrient of its own ancestry. The love that fuels the energy of Little Prince’s universe brings beauty as frequently as we care to look for it; certainly this is the energy that fuels Ma’s year-long painting of 100 meters of landscape. What the Prince probably also intends is for every single sunset to return to the magical blackness of 44, whatever secret this special number might hold.
– Johnson Chung