Maria Fernanda Cardoso

Sydney-based artist Maria Fernanda Cardoso (born 1963, Bogota, Colombia) blends nature, art, science, and technology to transform unconventional materials into awe-inspiring installations, sculptures, performances and videos. Her beautiful work invites us to experience the wonders of nature.

In the words of Jose Roca, Artistic Director of the 23rd Biennale of Sydney, her work “has a consistent feature: looking at the different ways geometry manifests itself in living creatures... (she) has developed a powerful body of work based on the intrinsic forms of animals and plants, combining them in unexpected ways.”

She is a recipient of the prestigious Creative Australia Fellowship from the Australia Council for the Arts, has exhibited at New York MoMA, the Centre Pompidou, the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, PS1, Fundacion La Caixa in Barcelona, the DAROS Foundation in Zurich, and the Centro Reina Sofia in Madrid.

Recently the Tate / MCA Joint Acquisitions Program acquired early works Corn Coil and Corn Drawings (1989) by the artist, as well as recent work, On the Origins of Art I II, and Actual Size I and II (2016). Over the last two decades, the Tate also acquired the Cardoso Flea Circus Tent and Video (1996-98) and Woven Water (2003).

Throughout her four-decade career, she has used a variety of means to explore our complex and awe-inspiring world: microscopes to capture the sex organs of invertebrates and plants; shearing and dying sheepskins to create murals; arranging preserved frogs into abstract patterns; filming the mating rituals of Australian peacock spiders; or using emu feathers to create avant-garde capes and hats.

While never limited by materials or methods, her curiosity about worlds-within-worlds permeates everything she does.

As American curator Carolina Ponce de León writes, “Cardoso’s installations, sculptures and videos seek to unravel the parodies, paradoxes and complexities that appear in the joints where cultural systems overlap.”

In the early 1980s, following in the footsteps of her accomplished architect parents, Cardoso studied architecture and visual arts at the Universidad de Los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia. In 1987, she moved to the USA where she graduated with a Masters degree in sculpture at Yale University, having been awarded a full scholarship.

One of her most fabled projects is The Cardoso Flea Circus (1994-2000), a performance piece featuring real live fleas. Over the course of a six-year period, Cardoso trained fleas to perform surprising feats such as walking on tightropes, pulling chariots, jumping through hoops and dancing tango.

The Circus toured internationally at venues including the Sydney Opera House, the Centre Pompidou, the Arts Festival Atlanta, the Fabric Workshop and Museum (Philadelphia), and the San Francisco Exploratorium. This work, including a series of videos made in collaboration with Ross Rudesch Harley, is now part of Tate Modern’s permanent collection.

In 2000, the Museum of Modern Art in New York commissioned her to create a major new installation featuring 36,000 plastic lilies along a 125-foot-long wall. The permanent beauty of the plastic flowers, which imitated the architecture of old cemeteries in Colombia, expressed a mourning for lives lost during the rampant violence suffered in her country of birth.

In 2003, she represented Colombia at the Venice Biennale, exhibiting a large installation of starfish woven together into a submarine landscape called Woven Water. In that same year had a major solo show, Zoomorphia, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney.

Throughout her career, Cardoso has continued to explore nature and its links to culture and science. In 2012 she completed her PhD at the University of Sydney’s College of the Arts. Her research on the aesthetics of reproductive morphology—likely to be one of the more unusual studies to be presented in the hallowed halls of academia—culminated in the Museum of Copulatory Organs (MoCO).

At MoCo, exhibited at Cockatoo Island as part of the 18th Biennale of Sydney, visitors encountered animal genitalia and sexual selection through three-dimensional models in glass, bronze and 3D printing, videos, drawings and electron-microscopy scans,
all displayed in museum cases.

Cardoso has lived and worked in Sydney since 1997.

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