Ivy Ma has built a reputation for her acute understanding of the unnoticeable moments of life that most of us overlook, and weaving these observations into the creation of intricate works of art that combine everyday materials and meticulous craftsmanship with a wide range of media including photography, performance, installation and drawing.
In her early site-specific installations, Ma brought into view the notion of an anonymous site, its physical and spatial history and the constraints that are imposed by psychic and subjective intervention. Her works negated and responded to the mani-layered influences of visual effect, gender and national identity and its disappearances. Shown in the exhibition entitled WO-MAN at the Old Ladies House in Macau in 2001, ‘Rooms of Memories’(2001) by Ma was installed as a comic strip with a giant text balloon made of black hairpins floating above an empty chair. Its visual form evoked a feminine corporeality and infirmity that seemed to operate in conversation with viewers.
As Ma continued her study of feminist theory and visual art at the University of Leeds in 2002, her intention to define the uncharted territory of sexuality of body, marginality of media and memory became more and more apparent. ‘Remember How to Throb’ (2002) comprised of a smaller installation ‘Remember How to Play’ in which domestic objects — soft toys, cushions, hair — were inserted inside foam as a metaphorical sexual symbol of the female and were dotted throughout the exhibition space. In another part of the work, the video projection ‘Remember How to Draw’ showed the artist’s impulsive reactions to her childhood experience of drawing with fingers. Playing on the word ‘throb’ as a double pun, Ma linked childhood and adulthood through her interpretation of the meaning of ‘play’ and ‘throb’. This collection of works was seen to be charged with libidinal or erotic energy, and this psychoanalytical perspective would become a central theme of Ma’s work in this period.
Between 2006 and 2009, Ma embarked on a series of artist residencies in Europe and in the United States, and during this period, she began to produce performative photographic works that emitted a deep sense of solitude. In the ‘Perception of Phenomenal Soundlessness’ series (2006), Ma placed her own curled up, unclothed body in an empty suitcase, dragged it to into a frozen landscape and photographed herself, barren, and dormant, blanketed by snow. Like a painting, every object is carefully composed. Juxtaposed with the snowy background, the photograph contains no words and no clear cultural references, with very few clues for audiences as to which country she was in. The minimal composition articulates the intimate relationship of body, object and the physical environment. It draws the viewer’s attention to the solitude and the liberation of sentiments in the process of creating. Perhaps the anxiety of the post-colonial Hong Kong and the experience of operating in the trans-national art system in this period attribute to Ma’s awareness on bodily association with relocation, and creates ‘The Wayward Cloud’ (2006), ‘The Distance of Blue’ (2009) and ‘The Blue of Distance’ series (2008-2009) to activate the meaning of a place by means of displacement and disappearance.
Ma is known for being fiercely intellectual and methodological in her presentations, despite working with photography, sculpture and installation, she is capable of conveying her long-term interest in the medium is drawing, exploring the transmigration of space and the possibilities allowed by her use of tiny materials that allow her to recompose a smoother ‘flow’ of sentiment that are expressed in her still life drawings such as in Yasujiro Ozu | Tokyo Story (2010) and Numbers Standing Still (2012). Both works have gained her a wider recognition in Hong Kong and establishes the visual aesthetic she endeavors to achieve.
Watch Ivy Ma’s Yasujiro Ozu | Tokyo Story | The room is not still, 2010:
Continuing this in Walking Towards (2012) andNumbers Standing Still (2012), Ma explores possible readings in the testimonial images of lived lives found in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. As her point of departure, Ma captures and re-photograph the images of tragedy, the unformidable horror in the aftermath of the atomic explosion, and begins a daunting and tedious process to erase, ceaselessly scrubbing the image off the paper only to re-inscribe, highlight and over-write it with pencil, charcoal or ink, creating a palimpsest where personal and historical, banal and the sublime, the horrific and beatific coverage. The work demonstrates her exceptional sensitivity to the minutest detail of an event. And when the repeated gesture of erasure and dotting becomes the entrance to the psyche, it helps to unite the unseen into a subtle yet poignant vocabulary that scrutinises one’s willingness to remember and to forget. By imperfecting a perfect drawing, Ma guides viewers to observe a single moment within a weighty context, leaving us to reflect within the space between subjectivity, the world, and history in our solitude.