You Can't Always See Where You Are Going, But Can You See Where You've Been?

Sumi ink, plants, and 21 ink-filled reflection pools

Dragon Museum of Contemporary Art, Echigo-Tsumari Triennale

Niigata prefecture, Japan

July 26 - September 13, 2009

Nearly one ton of sumi ink was used to fill the twenty-one steps of the elongated inclined interior of DMoCA, creating an otherworldly dimension in the museum. The stepped ponds evoke the terraced rice paddies famed in the Echigo-Tsumari region. Peering at the terraced ink pools through the doorways to DMoCA, viewers are able to see their reflections, providing a moment of self-contemplation.

Out of the structures of the museum, wild vegetation grows in an abundance of black, as if having absorbed the ink from the ponds within. The black vegetation is the painted scenery within this contemporary three-dimensional space, as an extension of the traditional sumi ink landscape painting on paper.

The massive blackness of the plants at the beginning of the project is altered by nature throughout the triennial. Plants grow and inject green back, allowing the work to unfold in time.

Sumi ink has been the main medium for expression and communication for many centuries in East Asia. It embodies all colors, emulates all forms, gives meaning to brush strokes, and aesthetic achievements. Concurrently, black is the culmination of all colors and absent of all light, it is also a powerful symbol of void and muteness. And in this installation, black sumi ink dominates the artistic vocabulary. Rather than a painted landscape on paper, the ink is directly applied to the landscape, in three-dimensional space, and a process that changes with time, as the plants' black-wear breaks down over the days and weeks.

Sumi ink's main ingredient is charred wood. When applied to plant surface, it not only blackens, but also takes on a reflective sheen, forming a mini-petrified landscape. The material content of charcoal in the ink also links it to the wood-burning function of the kiln.

The plants growing on and round the kiln had sprang forth from seeds fallen from the adjacent forest. Having been "nourished" by the ink, their blackness fosters an artwork in a spirit disseminated by the triennial's art taking root and flourishing in nature and villages of the Echigo-Tsumari region.

© 2019 Jennifer Wen Ma

Jennifer Wen Ma

Littlemeat Productions

New York, NY

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