Ink meets light

By Chen Nan ( China Daily ) Updated: 2013-01-18 16:15:03

Ink meets light

Artist Ma Wen returns to Beijing's Olympic venue with new designs for the Water Cube, and a new outlook on traditional Chinese painting, Chen Nan reports.

Ma Wen caught a bad cold recently. For the past 30 days, she had been walking outside for hours after midnight in Beijing.

The 39-year-old visual artist was one of seven members on the core creative team for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics. Now she is designing new outdoor illuminations for the Water Cube, the National Aquatic Center.

From 1 to 4 am, she and her team tested and adjusted her fluid light show, which will change every day.

Ink meets light

Perfect pointe 

"I see bubbles on the Water Cube as human cells. In the daytime they absorb the power from outside and inside the human body, and at night they release emotions through colors," says Ma, who has spent the past six months designing the new work, which will be officially seen by the public in March.

She used a computer program to interpret ancient Chinese teachings such as the I Ching, Tao Te Ching and the traditional Chinese almanac, as well as daily weather and societal conditions. Each day's unique characters and aura are projected as light, color, rhythm and movements on the Water Cube's facade.

She hopes the images will connect with people who are passing by, rather than simply being just decorations.

In her designs, she left the roof of the Water Cube black, unlit.

"When I worked after midnight in Beijing, I saw a different city, a quiet, dreamy and real city," she says.

"I want to retain the top of the architecture's natural outlook, which merges with the darkness at night."

The blackness also flows with the artist's philosophy about mo, or traditional Chinese ink, which she started to apply in her artworks after the Olympic Games.

Renowned choreographer Shen Wei created dance with the free flow of the Chinese ink painting at the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony. The combination of the ancient ink painting and the advanced LED technology impressed Ma, who spent eight months working on the visual effects for the opening ceremony.

"Since I grew up in the US, I didn't have the same passion for ink as many other Chinese artists, who grew up being exposed to traditional Chinese painting," Ma says.

She has developed a different perspective on the legacy of ink, which dominates the artistic vocabulary in her series of artworks.

In 2010's Furious Bloom, she composed pots of inked chrysanthemums - the flowers traditionally used in China for funerals - against a white wall, dedicated to a friend's husband who passed away six months after their wedding.

Her attitude toward life and death is also evident in another work - at the foot of Switzerland's Engadine mountain, which overlooks St. Moritz Lake, a 1,000-square-meter area of soil painted black with ink.

Over a few days, a fine layer of tender green grass broke through the black soil to spell the words "Amor Fati", Latin for "embrace your fate" used by the philosopher Freidrich Nietzsche.

"I am so touched by the scene of the fresh green shoots, the evidence of the perseverance and resilience of life," she says. "The ink is organic and made of natural ingredients. Though it smells, I love it."

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