Cry Joy Park ––– Gardens of Dark and Light

Laser-cut flashspun nonwoven HDPE garden, copper fruit, interactive elements, 
Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art
Charleston, SC
May 17 – July 6, 2019

Cry Joy Park—Gardens of Dark and Light investigates the history and social landscape of Charleston, a cultural capital of the American South, and an exemplar of its complex opulence and beauty. The exhibition creates an immersive, multi-sensory experience that explores the juxtaposition of utopia and dystopia. Cry Joy Park is part of a larger body of work that deals with the difficulty of reconciling opposing forces in our society. It follows the explorations that began with Paradise Interrupted, an installation opera conceived, designed, and directed by Ma, which made its world premiere at Spoleto Festival 2015, was performed at Lincoln Center Festival, New York and continues to travel worldwide.


Walking into the Halsey gallery, one steps into the enveloping tangles of an oversized black garden, employing Ma’s signature visual language of honeycomb paper structures and cultivated chaos. Crawling vines and branches heavy with giant leaves and fruits are complimented by motion-sensored portions of the garden that introvertedly retreat when approached by the visitor. At the far end of the garden, one must push through a flower portal reminiscent of a botanical birth canal, emerging from darkness into the garden of light. Dark impenetrability gives way to shocking brightness, and comforting ambiguity is replaced with glaring clarity. Mirroring the responsive intelligence of the dark garden, portions of this cut-paper foliage move to greet visitors in extraverted display.


Two landscape paintings of ink-on-glass stand as walls to separate the gardens. The pictorial planes further the illusory landscape created by the gardens, while the paintings’ mirrored finish reflect the built environment, and places the viewer’s reflection within this constructed paradise.


Crafted by the same means yet yielding contrasting tones and qualities, the gardens of dark and light illuminate the opposing forces that exist within a whole, and the inseparable union between utopian ideals and dystopic reality. Human societies often systematically exclude some of their members from sharing in the full benefits of the paradises they build. This is evident in the racial history and dynamics of Charleston, whose accomplishments were achieved largely by an enslaved workforce that was barred from full citizenship rights.


A vital component of this exhibition is a series of community dinners celebrating some of those who have contributed to the making of the paradise that is Charleston but might not have been invited to the harvest table in times past. Taking place in the galleries, these culinary feasts are created by local chefs and will feature performances and guided conversations on specific environmental justice* themes related to the exhibition such as spirituality, food security, land politics, re-entry into society following incarceration, and education. Key members of the Charleston community are invited to recognize their contributions in elevating the disfranchised and engaging in dialogues that can be translated into action.


The contrasting gardens of light and dark will also be a visual platform for interdisciplinary performances taking place during the exhibition period and providing ephemeral encounters to the audience in unexpected ways. These performances take the form of dancing, singing, drumming, storytelling, poetry and other kinds of theatrical exchange. The Halsey Institute is collaborating with the faculty and students of College of Charleston, as well as with a variety of community groups and artists.


Cry Joy Park—Gardens of Dark and Light is co-curated by Mark Sloan, Director and Chief Curator, and Bryan Granger, Director of Exhibitions and Public Programs at the Halsey Institute. This interdisciplinary exhibition is produced by Jennifer Wen Ma with the help of her studio staff and students from the College of Charleston. This exhibition is generously supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, The Henry and Sylvia Yaschik Foundation, and The E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.



*Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. 

© 2019 Jennifer Wen Ma

Jennifer Wen Ma

Littlemeat Productions

New York, NY

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