LZ: Tell us a bit about yourself and the art that you create?
MM: My name is Mary Ma, I’m a 4th year student from the Sculpture and Installation program at OCAD U. I’ve always grown up in large cities, very human made places and I recently came back from an exchange in Portland Oregon. There I saw things that were kind of larger than our human world, in the forests, and mountains, and the ocean, and that has inspired the work that I make.
My projects are an attempt to find out for myself what it means to connect and be a part of these larger things in the landscape, and to reconcile a personal sense of loss or disconnect to the natural world to be in a forest, to really see the sky or to sit at the edge of a body of water. What can that tell us about ourselves? What can that tell us about the nature of the world? I take inspiration from those experiences and bring them back into my work and construct large, minimal structures that try to play with our experience of space, and use the imagery that I film from my excursions to create immersive light based work.
Could you describe your experiences going through the OCAD U Mobility and Exchange Program?
I went to a school called the Pacific Northwest College of Art. It was small, about 500 students with programs in design, animation, and art. They had a program there called Video and Sound, and that was where I started learning how to use video projectors as an art material. I took a course called Projection, Sound, Space, and also one called Video Installation, and they really taught me how to get comfortable with technology, and to use media in a malleable way to make work. We put on a media art show in this large gallery that was painted completely black inside, and we had this outdoor projection project where we drove out at night with an electricity generator and projected our work onto buildings. It was really exciting stuff.
Being in Oregon, I realized how influenced I was by my environment and the places I live. My previous work drew inspiration from the density and diversity of people in large cities, and my relationship with the architecture and people surrounding me were a big influence. I needed to renegotiate a new relationship in this new place, because in the beginning, none of the strategies I had were working and I couldn’t make anything. Your peripheral interests start to shift into focus, things that were latent before could now come alive.
What influenced your decision to major in Sculpture & Installation?
Sculpture and Installation appealed to me because I felt it was the most open program and the most conceptually rigorous, where I could do anything that I wanted to do materially and conceptually. It was a place where I could express my thinking in a critical way, while not being limited in terms of what process you take on. I like the diversity of peers and professors, you get to see a lot of interesting projects and talk about big ideas.
How long have you been interested in art? How long have you known that this is something you want to pursue as a career?
I’m not sure I’ve always known what art is. It was like this elusive quality that had been hard for me to define for a long time. I always loved drawing. I remember being a child of 4 or 5, and I wanted to draw this pear, so I started drawing it in chalk on the wall of my parent’s bedroom. My father was sitting in the corner, and he saw it and said it looked nice. I was really dissatisfied with that image so, I drew another one and he didn’t stop me. After that I thought that I had free range to draw anywhere I wanted to in the house. I felt that was an important experience even though I made a mess, that you can do something creatively and not have anyone limit you for it.
What inspires you?
Being by the sea.
Do you have a best time of the day to work on your projects?
I usually wake up the same time everyday, and work the whole day. I like this quote from Charles Dickens who said,
I never could have done what I have done without the habits of punctuality, order, and diligence, without the determination to concentrate myself on one subject at a time
and I try to live by that.
Where are you the most productive? Tell us about your creative space?
Everything I do right now is at school. I make everything here but I am looking forward to finding new places to make work after I graduate.
What materials do you work with primarily? Why?
A Canon 70D camera, a tripod, my wide angle lens. A lot of projectors! And video adaptor chords, media players, power cables, that kind of stuff.
The video projection for me is a reflection of something in reality, although I’m not trying to recreate reality. Technology doesn’t always to have to be antagonistic to the natural world. Perhaps it can be something that points us back to that world.
Is there any artist from the past or present that you appreciate a lot?
Sharry Boyle, Maya Lin, Björk.
What advice would give first year students?
There are so many things you have to know when you first get here. When there is a problem, try to remember to be calm and focused and examine the scope of the problem that you are trying to solve, strategize and learn where you can ask questions.
I think it’s important to do one thing at a time, solve each problem, one after the other otherwise you can become overwhelmed. If you take a step back from the fact that you are here at OCAD for the first time, and that you will be here for a long time past this one problem, and that there is a whole life after that, maybe that perspective will help you feel less crazy about first year.
You recently had a solo exhibition at Katharine Mulherin’s NO FOUNDATION Gallery. Tell us about your experience around the exhibition?
The show was a part of our thesis exhibition series in the Sculpture and Installation program, where we applied to galleries across the city and mounted work outside of school. It was a very exciting thing to do. I had never really worked so hard and so long on something like that before, but people were very kind and enthusiastic. It was nice to see the public’s response to your work and I feel very fortunate to have an opportunity to work with the gallery.
What are your plans when you graduate?
I will be participating in an artist residency at the University of Windsor and living there for a month in May. After that I am going to come back and hopefully find a job.