Ma

shigeo fukuda

alan fletcher

Ma is a Japanese word which can be roughly translated as ‘gap,’ ‘space,’ ‘pause,’ or ‘the space between two structural parts.’ It is best described as a consciousness of place, not in the sense of an enclosed three-dimensional entity, but rather the simultaneous awareness of form and non-form, similar to the concept of ‘negative space’ in graphic design. Ma is not something that is created by compositional elements; it is the thing that takes place in the imagination of the human who experiences these elements. Therefore, ma can be defined as experiential place understood with emphasis on interval.

In his 2001 book ‘The Art of Looking Sideways,’ graphic designer Alan Fletcher discusses the importance of exemplifying ‘space’ as a substance: ‘Cézanne painted and modelled space. Giacometti sculpted by ‘taking the fat off space.’ Mallarmé conceived poems with absences as well as words. Ralph Richardson asserted that acting lay in pauses… Isaac Stern described music as ‘that little bit between each note – silences which give the form’… The Japanese have a word (‘ma’) for this interval which gives shape to the whole. In the West we have neither word nor term. A serious omission.’

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