Agnes Ma is a faculty member at the University of Northern Colorado, teaching 3D Foundations and Digital Fabrication. Her artwork—including sculpture, metalwork, and jewelry—combines traditional craft and modern methods of fabrication. She will be a 2018 Yellowstone Artist-in-Residence, living and working in Yellowstone National Park from June 18 through July 16, 2018.
Recently, we had an opportunity to ask Ma about her unique approach to art and what she hopes to create during her time in Yellowstone.
Yellowstone Forever: You often mix traditional art materials like metals with items such as dried flowers, seeds, or soil. Why do you incorporate these found natural materials into your work?
Agnes Ma: Since the materials I use are often very rigid and sterile, such as metal and/or industrial materials, utilizing found natural materials adds an ephemeral component to the work. Additionally, since my work often discusses the interactions of humanity with the natural environment, juxtaposing the vastly different materials augments context.
YF: You create many types of artwork, including large-scale sculptures and installations. What type of experience do you hope people have when viewing your artwork?
AM: During my art education, I realized that the work I most appreciated viewing always gave me a visceral response. These works were usually experience based that forced the viewer to walk around the physical pieces and explore the space.
With large sculptural and installations works, there is a different kind of problem solving forced unto the artist. It is not just a matter of figuring out how to physically make and visually organize something, but the artist must also additionally consider the viewer experience even more so than an artwork that sits on a wall or pedestal. It requires planning to support the concept. This extended process allows making to become challenging in the best of ways. My hope is for the viewer to be engaged with the piece and space, to instigate a desire in the audience to explore the physical aspects of the artwork in order to glean meaning.
YF: In college you majored in molecular and cellular biology. Does this science background inform or inspire your work in any way?
AM: While I don’t feel that my degree in biology directly influences the content of my work, I do feel that my approach to making has been governed by my background in the sciences. I generally try to keep my process very structured. Since I dabble in a lot of different materials, I often have to go about experimenting in a very methodical manner. To some extent, I have always felt that experimenting with materials was very similar to scientific experimentation.
YF: Why were you interested in being an artist-in-residence in Yellowstone?
AM: If I am honest, I have never really considered myself to be an outdoors person. I attribute it to my growing up in the Midwest suburbs. However, during my adult years I have been lucky enough to travel to a variety of places. I have realized that I actually love being in water, especially if it is saltwater. After moving to Colorado, I experienced how lovely it is to be in the mountains.
Additionally, as I started to integrate nature into my artwork, I became more appreciative of the intricacies of our natural environment. I want to take my practice into a surrounding that is devoted to maintaining and sharing experiences of the natural world, especially since my work is about human experience with the environment.
YF: What do you hope you create during your time in Yellowstone?
AM: I hope to create an experience that will encourage self-reflection of how we exist in our natural environment. I plan on constructing a large installation where visitors will be able to walk through and around the work. I would like visitors to feel compelled to explore the created space and walk away with deep consideration as to the possible outcomes of our actions.
The Yellowstone Artist-in-Residence Program is sponsored by Yellowstone Forever. Learn more about the program and view Agnes Ma’s Yellowstone schedule at Yellowstone.org/art.
Learn more about Agnes Ma and her work.