Halsey Institute announces an upcoming project with Jennifer Wen Ma

CHARLESTON, SC - The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston presents the exhibition Cry Joy Park: Gardens of Dark and Light by Jennifer Wen Ma. The exhibition will be on view from May 17 to July 6, 2019.

Cry Joy Park: Gardens of Dark and Light is an investigation into the construct of a utopia, inspired by the history of Charleston, South Carolina, a cultural and artistic capital of the American South, and an exemplar of its opulence and beauty. This installation aims to present both an alluring, gorgeous and otherworldly garden, and its darker counterpart. The worlds created by the exhibition, is a juxtaposition of utopia and dystopia, and is presented via an immersive sensory experience that utilizes various forms of communication to convey its message.

Cry Joy Park: Gardens of Dark and Light is co-curated by Mark Sloan, Director and Chief Curator and Bryan Granger, Director of Exhibitions and Public Programs at the Halsey Institute. Jennifer Wen Ma is creating a brand new site-specific, immersive, interactive, multi-media installation during a six-week residency at the Halsey Institute with her assistants as well as students from the College of Charleston and community volunteers.

The installation includes multiple components and layers:

  • Light and Dark Gardens - Oversized foliage made from cut paper, transforms the gallery into an overgrown forest. As the viewer approaches parts of the garden, the foliage is triggered by the motion and backs away, withdrawing in a defensive mode of self-protection. The narratives that run through the two gardens represent different sides of the same story or event, giving a Rashomon-like account of the complexity of human experience and perspective. The gardens represent a utopia and its opposing dystopia. Within this large-scale installation, Ma will use sound and projected video elements to create a rich multimedia experience.
  • Ink-on-Glass Paintings - A series of ink-on-glass paintings are shown along with the installations. One is mounted in the ante-room of Static Snow, and several more are installed in the back gallery behind the garden. They recount the artist's journey through the process of creating the installation, from materials that rose out of the research, to encounters during the residency and installation in Charleston. The painting will have a mirrored finish and create an illusory landscape within the pictorial plane.
  • Interdisciplinary Performances - These contrasting gardens of light and dark will also be a visual platform for interdisciplinary performances to take place during the exhibition period, providing a visceral encounter to the audience in an unexpected. These will take the form of dancing, singing, drumming, story-telling, or other kinds of theatrical exchange. The central theme for the works is the notion of working hard, yet not being invited to join the feast/celebration/table. The Halsey Institute is collaborating with the College of Charleston departments of Music, Dance and Theatre to plan student performances in the gallery, as well as with a variety of community groups.
  • Community Dinners - Ma will use the exhibition to host a series of community dinners, which will feature guided conversation on specific themes related to the exhibition such as social justice, religious tolerance, and gentrification. These dinners will feature a wide range of members from the community to discuss the vital issues facing Charleston today.

Cry Joy Park: Gardens of Dark and Light is generously supported in part by The E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.


Jennifer Wen Ma (b. 1973, Beijing) moved to the United States in 1986 and graduated with an MFA in 1999 from the Pratt Institute. Her practice draws together elements and cultural references in sensitive and unexpected ways, bridging such diverse media as installation, drawing, video, public art, design, performance, and theater. Trained as an oil painter, Ma was one of seven members of the core creative team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and received an Emmy Award for their broadcast. Since then, she has increasingly delved into the material and philosophical qualities of the Chinese ink tradition.

Her work has been shown around the world, including the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing; the Guggenheim Museum, New York; and the Metropolitan Museum, New York. Her opera Paradise Interrupted was performed at Spoleto Festival USA in 2016, among other locations around the globe. Jennifer Wen Ma's website is www.littlemeat.net.

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