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Public art will bring spring to Market Square

| Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015, 9:19 p.m.

A public art project will remind Pittsburghers that, despite the doldrums of winter, spring is on its way.

Artist Jennifer Wen Ma, who has been awarded a $75,000 commission to produce the second art installation for the Market Square Public Art Program, will create a small forest of trees painted with black ink that will change periodically to show signs of life as the weather warms. The installation will open Feb. 19 and be on display through mid-April.

“It's a very interesting challenge to do this project in the middle of winter,” says Ma, who works and lives in New York and Beijing. “It made me really think about what winter means. As a society, we think of nature as something we can just conquer. As we move further away from the world of agriculture, the idea of seasons becomes a less essential part of life. Winter becomes an annoyance rather than something people really have to deal with.

“I started imagining a wintry landscape and what that means for city dwellers and residents. I wanted to take something very industrial and urban and somehow create a little patch of land that turns it back to nature temporarily and highlights the qualities of nature enduring the winter.”

This is the first installation by the artist in Pittsburgh. Ma was born in Beijing, moved to the United States in 1986 and received her master of fine art in 1999 from Pratt Institute in New York City.

Ma's work bridges media including installation, video, drawing, fashion design, performance and public art. In 2008, she was one of seven members in the core creative team for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Summer Olympics and the chief designer for visual and special effects. She won an Emmy for the U.S. broadcast of the ceremony.

Ma was selected for the Market Square project, a program of the city of Pittsburgh/Public Art Division managed by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, through an open call and juried process that attracted applicants from around the world. The program first launched in February 2014 with “Congregation,” a large-scale, interactive video and sound installation by the U.K.'s pioneering new media artists KMA.

“Jennifer's work is of international significance, not to mention incredibly beautiful and serene,” says Morton Brown, public-art manager with the Department of City Planning. “In effect, her portfolio and renown speak for themselves. However, I also believe that among the final artists selected, the jury saw that the work of Ms. Ma would provide a quiet, contemplative, yet compelling, contrast to the former multimedia installation of 2014, providing diversity in form, scale and content to that which had been displayed in the program's inaugural year. Her installation for 2015 in the square will be stunning.”

Ma's piece will start with barren branches and evolve to include blossoms to highlight the promise of spring. The project is intended to inspire contemplation, Ma says.

“Winter is time to reflect and lay fallow in order to rejuvenate one's self for the spring, which is full of creation and activity,” she says. “Spring is not possible without winter.”

Bringing art to such a high-traffic area as Market Square is a challenge Ma takes seriously.

“It's something I'm very passionate about,” she says. “Public art is not easy to do. You have to create something both provocative and accessible.”

“Public art is a necessary component to a vibrant, world-class city,” says Jeremy Waldrup, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. “Art inspires, educates and serves as an economic-development tool. Art encourages visitors to Downtown and reaffirms to people that already live, work and visit here that this is the place they want to be because they value the experiences that only Downtown can provide: the finest art, entertainment, dining and the best office and residential location in the region.”

Funding for the Market Square Public Art Program comes from The Heinz Endowments, the Artworks program of the National Endowment for the Arts, an anonymous source, Richard King Mellon Foundation and the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. Local production support is being provided by Flyspace Productions and the Office of Public Art, as well as the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and Building Studio Workshop.

Details: MarketSquarePublicArt.com

Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or rweaver@tribweb.com.

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