Eight Views of Paradise Interrupted
Ink, paint, acrylic panels, hand-cut Japanese paper garden
Sandra Gering Inc.
New York, NY
May 11 - June 28, 2017
Also exhibited at Tang Contemporary Art, Beijing
Eight Views of Paradise Interrupted is the newest result of Jennifer Wen Ma's decade-long exploration into Chinese ink: both finding new possibilities of expression with the medium and tapping into the traditions and philosophical theories of its rich, storied and complex history.
The exhibition title makes reference to the long tradition of the literati painting trope of "Eight Views of Xiao Xiang." As far back as the Song Dynasty, literati artists created albums of eight painted views of the region of Xiao Xiang, and later of other locales, to convey their disappointment and disillusionment with the government after official or self-imposed exile, and express their yearning to be one with nature. These coded and subtle expressions of dissent gave freedom to the artists to cultivate and record the inner landscape of their minds during difficult periods in their lives under strict imperial rule. Ma has found particular resonance with this reflective painting practice, given the current global geopolitical climate.
The exhibition borrows the "eight views" structure to investigate key moments, dramatic punctuations, and personal and historial influences and inspirations in the making of the installation opera Paradise Interrupted, which was conceived, visually designed, and directed by Jennifer Wen Ma.
The opera poetically weaves the stories of the biblical Garden of Eden and kunqu opera The Peony Pavilion with a musical composition that merges 600-year-old kunqu with contemporary Western opera. The work follows a woman searching for an unattainable ideal in a world activated by her singing voice as she attempts to return to a utopian garden paradise. Interactive technology enables a host of digital characters to interact with the protagonist and respond to her voice.
The set design for Paradise Interrupted is inspired by traditional Chinese landscape painting, where gardens and mountain ranges are simply but effectively described with brushstrokes and a minimal color palette. Unfurling the painting transports the viewer into a grant vista, and rolling up the scroll conveniently stows the landscape away.
The desire to create a garden that could be expanded from nothingness to a fully realized garden, inspired much of Ma's experimentation and resulted in the garden set piece in its present form - paper in a honeycomb pattern, a traditional structure for paper art, allows the large sheets of black paper to stand erect to create a formidable landscape.
It is also an investigation of the idea of paradise in historical and contemporary societies, from the Hanging Garden of Babylon and the Garden of Eden to the Peach Orchards of ancient China. The word "paradise" comes from an ancient Iranian Avestan word, pairidaeza, meaning "walled enclosure." Humans have tried, throughout history, to break down the barrier of this utopian idea to either get into or out of a paradise. Additionally, we negotiate the friction between psychological and emotional ideals of what life should be and its realities.
Ma began painting with ink on glass in 2007, while working on the core creative team for the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. The recorded footage of this experimentation eventually became the 2009 work Brain Storm (on view in the gallery), the first of several videos using ink as a medium. In 2014, Ma began to work with ink, paint, and mirrored glass as a further exploration into the illusion of paradise and the utopian landscape. Eight Views of Paradise Interrupted presents a more mature exploration in this series, bringing all of these elements together in a formally beautiful, conceptually complex, and historically rich installation.