A new, dynamic interlacing sculpture by South Korean artist, Jongil Ma floats above the entrance to the Burt Chernow Galleries. The major piece, presented by the Housatonic Museum of Art, is an intricate arrangement of stained wood, offering a lesson in balance and flow
Named ‘Be There When You Return’, the artwork’s design alludes to the history of Bridgeport. Prior to planning the piece, Ma spent time learning about the city, including its early prosperity, decline and steps toward redevelopment. The hopeful piece refers to Bridgeport’s journey and optimistically forecasts a return to residents’ pride and passion for local architecture.
“I could see some similarity between what happened in China and what happened in this city, and it is time to revisit how we go forward. Learning about the rich development and beautiful architectural detail here, I was really shocked that we’re forgetting about this valuable perspective. I can’t bring all that back, but I want to reflect that aspect,” said Ma.
Ma grew up in rural South Korea where as a young boy he carved natural materials to make playthings. Yearning for a greater cultural experience, at age 14 he moved to Seoul and then later to New York to study fine art at the School of Visual Arts. One day, to alleviate stress, he carved a slingshot from a wood branch for a relative, and found a familiar comfort and joy. Nearing graduation, he contemplated those feelings and began playing with wood; he hasn’t stopped since.
The enormous piece, which measures 23 feet high and 22 feet wide, consists of nearly 300 painted boards of Connecticut pine, maple and some exotic woods to create a three-dimensional drawing in space. Primary colors of red, yellow and blue were chosen to symbolically suggest the most foundational things needed in life, but also reflect Ma’s own Korean heritage, creating a connection to the artist himself.
“I’m leaning on the basics of color, trying to create a more perfect way of life through connection to ancient ideals,” said Ma.
Finding balance is a major theme of the piece as well. Ma sees it as his destiny to be working here at this moment in history, balancing the realistic present, early Chinese philosophy and a vision for an ideal future. That sense of balance is also quite literally depicted in the work’s structure; the boards, all milled, sanded, and shaped by Ma himself, are standing without additional supports.
“Each piece depends upon the other in order to remain standing. Connectedness and interdependence are the ideas behind the visual structure. For all our cultural differences, life between people are somehow very similar,” said Ma.
“This dramatic and striking piece is aptly named as it will be here when our students eventually return to on-campus classes,” said Robbin Zella, Director of the Housatonic Museum of Art. “There is a sense of motion in the piece and I think of ribbons dancing on a gentle breeze; after months of enforced isolation due to the pandemic, our community is in for a nice surprise.”
‘Be There When You Return’ was made possible through the generosity of longtime Housatonic Museum of Art donors Elizabeth Fray and the Werth Family Foundation with additional support from Housatonic Community College. To see the new artwork, an appointment is needed, and visitors must comply with social distancing rules and wear protective face masks.
Housatonic Museum of Art is located on the Housatonic Community College campus, located at 900 Lafayette Blvd. in Bridgeport. It is home to one of the premier college art collections in the country, spanning the history of art from the ancient to the contemporary, and is on continuous display throughout the 300,000 square foot facility. The museum also hosts changing exhibitions in the Burt Chernow Galleries, and engaging lectures, workshops, films, special events and programs throughout the year, both in person and online. Visit www.HousatonicMuseum.org to learn more.