In Ma Li’s hands, clear plastic bottles transform into suspended fields of jellyfish-like sculptures, and colored foam and clothes hangers resemble migrating flocks of birds.
With references to Chinese history, ecological concerns, ritual and fantasy, the Bay Area-based visual and performance artist weaves unlikely materials into large-scale immersive environments, and brings them to life with choreographed movements.
A recent artist residency at Recology, San Francisco’s municipal waste company, provided powerful fodder for Ma’s natural inclination to accumulate materials from unlikely sources. “The giant pile of trash is to me a treasure mountain,” she explains.
Growing up in China in the 1980s, when poverty was widespread, primed the artist for scavenging. “Watching people repurpose old objects and materials was really inspiring, and in my blood,” Ma says.
Ma’s colorful, suspended sculptures are full of whimsy. Meet You at the Bird Bridge in the Milky Way, an installation marking the end of her time at Recology, was inspired by a Chinese folktale of the Cow Herder and the Weaver Maid. Separated by a galaxy of stars, the two lovers in the legend are reunited by sympathetic birds who form a bridge across the expanse.