Artist Ma Li explores the relationship between repetition and community engagement through her crafting of surreal worlds. These worlds are inclusive of a repetitive motif which is inherent of her Chinese heritage, and further more supported by a particular motivation from traditional Asian architecture. She claims that ‘architecture is the direct visual language of a civilization. The artist’s previous choreographic background within a collectivist society is equally influential as we later discover. ‘Through the process of appropriating, decontextualising, and subverting pre-existent objects into sculptures and installations, I create ceremonial structures that celebrate the ritual and mundane materials. In my worlds the dichotomies of hand-crafted/industrial, quotidian/fantasy, traditional/pop culture and nature/man-made are imbued with a sense of a celebration and a reminiscence of identity: from a woman in a collective society to a citizen of the planet’.

Often, Ma Li’s creative process begins with three main confines; a location, available materials and the time in which she has to work, leading to the work manifesting into a concept only recognisable through making and understanding the properties of the materials at hand. Her interest derives in exploring non traditional materials such as fabric, cardboard, plastic, paper and found objects, in turn manifesting hybrid forms that exhibit characteristics of materials and their relation to their environment, with the final installation accumulating a plethora of countless elements. One can still view Ma Li’s sculptures as three dimensional drawings… of colours and textures leaping off a page in intricate and lively demonstrations, rich with narrative and vibrant colours. Our favourite must be ‘663 hours to intergalactica’, enhanced by light and shadow play; creating a truly alien presence and indicative of a more elaborate version of Boltankski’s ‘Les Ombres’ and Hiller’s ‘Witness.’ ‘Wishing Tree’ follows in close pursuit with its oozing fluorescence and playful intricacies that layer up like the years gone past of an ancient tree.

Ma Li’s understanding of material/environment relationships by no means stops with static installation work but transforms to collaboration with the body. Her sense of theatricality and potential for performance became apparent at a recent project at Vermont Studio Centre. Initially a vast and blue sculpture was envisaged in a ‘golden autumn landscape of Johnson, Vermont,’ soon rethought after exploration of the material at hand- Coroplast- which moved well in the wind, resulting in a kinetic sculpture brought to life by twenty four participants; each manoeuvring a component of the sculpture and ultimately amassing a complete and freestanding piece. Each constituent of the sculpture functions as prop and costume and provides a performance structure. It is devised in a communist style routine [choreographed by the artist herself] and overall, inspired by a fictional ceremony of the ascension of Azure Dragon. The piece embodies an ‘optimistic attempt to create and document a shared moment of experience incorporating signifiers of ceremony, celebration and communal gatherings,’ routing in Ma Li’s devotion in people’s perception and interaction with each other in intrigue into the relation of repeated visual and/or collective actions which consequently manifest into a ceremonial and celebratory event. The entire project was planned, conducted and documented within the short space of half an hour. [A link to the documented performance can be found here http://vimeo.com/110970539]

In retrospect, Ma Li had always been artistically active whether at school or work as well as producing monthly blackboard murals, and choreographing performances for various festivals in her time in China. Due to the pressures of her generation, the life of an artist was an impractical fantasy which led to her studies in chemical engineering and working within a multi country cooperation. Her move to San Francisco epitomised personal liberation and initiated the pursuit of an artistic career, supported by accessible education and effervescent art scene. It didn’t take long until Ma Li found herself working as an illustrator and progressing onto graduate school in a short space of time. Her actions are exemplary in demonstrating the importance of self liberation and pursuing ambition despite external expectations and social stigma. We respect her aptitude for contributing to society through her work and inspiring others to grasp their true longings.

More visual stimulation to be found at www.malimalimali.com
Feature by Amber Scarlett / amber@thirstforvision.com


SÝN Magazine

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