Ma Qiusha: Road
Ma Qiusha says that her art practice is inseparable from her life experience; from the conflicts and dilemmas presented by real life. These are narrowed down to a specific arena of her life experience: the cultural gap between her generation and that of her parents. To understand how this is manifest in her work, “Road” takes a retrospective look back over the recent decade of Ma Qiusha’s artistic expression, and includes video installations, examples of her work with photography, and with installation forms. The selection of pieces, nine in total, begins from Milk created back in 2008, but the exhibition begins with a piece from the series Fog 2011-12. Beginning from a personal memory or experience, each is conveyed through the use of subtle, at times unlikely, materials. Fog was inspired by a typical 1980s-style lace curtain. In the 1980s, such curtains were a necessity of life. Where privacy was minimized, it was a subtle barrier to the outside world and the gaze of neighbours. Each piece in the series is the precise size of a window that Ma Qiusha remembers from the childhood home in the Beijing hutong where she spent her first three years. The lace pattern we see on the surface of the watercolour paper used for the work is the imprint of an actual curtain. Ma Qiusha lays the fabric on the paper and then douses it with the dark wash of pigment. Each final image contains a fine white line which is achieved by “throwing” down a thread under the fabric before the pigment wash is applied. This line references daylight which occasionally penetrated the curtain. It is a life force but also an umbilical cord that ties the artist to her formative experiences.
A similar transformation of material is enacted on stockings from various eras, which are used in the 2016 installation series Wonderland. Or, equally, images gleaned from pictorial calendars of the 1980s and early 1990s, which are combined in the series of cyanotypes titled 1990 2017. Ma Qiusha chose this technique as the blue tone itself is evocative of nostalgia, and embodies ‘the colour of my parent’s youth’. Pictorial calendars were a feature of every home in the 1980s; spots of colour in an otherwise colourless world. ‘Calendar scenes were more beautiful than anything that could be seen outside of the window,’ the artist explains. 1990 comprises one image from each of a dozen calendars, re-photographed, not scanned, and including all marks of time. The pictures chosen here represent the aesthetic taste of the era, before other aesthetic options became available in the wake of opening and reform.
No survey of Ma Qiusha’s work would be complete without examples from her strong body of work with moving images. “Road” includes the seminal video works All My Sharpness Comes from Your Hardness, 2011; Rainbow 2013, and Mars 2016. The three single-channel works underscore a shift in the angle of investigation that Ma Qiusha has employed over this span of time. ‘My early work was focused on my personal perception of individual existence as a means to understand my parents collective experience,’ she says. ‘Then I experimented with introducing my perception of personal experiences into the public space, switching between individuals and groups, public and private space. More recently I am interested in how the world appears to my mother’s generation.’
Ma Qiusha is not unusual in being a single child, born in the 1980s, to parents whose values were aligned with the socio-cultural experiences of collective living who were caught up in the impact that economic reform, launched just before Ma Qiusha was born, would have upon her world. To the artist the gulf between the two generations is large, yet she finds empathetic, human means, using small, almost incidental elements from daily life, to reflect the conflicts that this opened up.
About the Artist
Ma Qiusha was born in 1982 in Beijing. She graduated from Alfred University Department of Electronic Integrated Art with a MA in 2008. Currently she lives and works in Beijing. Her solo exhibitions include: “History repeats itself”, MIMA, UK, 2018; “Ma Qiusha: Wonderland”, Beijing Commune, Beijing, 2016; “BKMQ: Bettina Krieg & Ma Qiusha”, SMAC, Berlin, 2015; “Ma Qiusha: Works on Paper”, Beijing Commune, Beijing, 2014; “Ma Qiusha: Raw”, Beijing Commune, Beijing, 2013; “Ma Qiusha”, Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester, UK, 2013; “Ma Qiusha: Static Electricity”, Beijing Commune, Beijing, 2012.
OCAT Xi’an would like to express especial thanks to Beijing Commune for support of this exhibition.