MARIA FERNANDA CARDOSO: Front view of the cabinet "is not the size that matters,it's how" : intromitant bodies of the Harvestman of Tasmania, 2008- 2009. Resin , metal printing on photo paper. 3D modeling : Matt Booth. Shop windows and Museology in collaboration with Gary Warner. Photo: Ross Rudesch Harley .


Maria Fernanda Cardoso

Maria Fernanda Cardoso is a leading Latin American and Australian artist who lives and works in Sydney. She graduated with an MFA in Sculpture from Yale University, USA in 1990. In 1995 she was catapulted to worldwide fame with the Cardoso Flea Circus when it was premiered at the San Francisco Exploratorium, an art and science institution in California. She has exhibited in over 25 countries world in institutions as prestigious as NY MoMA, the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, PS1, New York, the San Francisco Exploratorium, the Centre Georges Pompidou, Fundacion La Caixa in Barcelona, the Centro Reina Sofia in Madrid. Last year her large scale project the Museum of Copulatory Organs was the highlight at the 18th Biennale of Sydney, attracting crowds of over a quarter million visitors and enormous media attention including a half hour ABC Artscape documentary titled The Wonderful World of Professor Cardoso

Her introduction to Australia was at the Sydney Festival, when she presented the Cardoso Flea Circus at the Sydney Opera House for a sold-out season in 2000.  The same year, the New York Museum of Modern Art commissioned her to make a major installation of Cemetery/ Vertical Garden which consisted of a 45 mt long wall sprouting 136,000 plastic flowers.  This was part of MoMA’s  millennium show, Modern Starts: People Things Places.

In 2004 she represented Colombia at the Venice Biennale, exhibiting a large installation of starfish titled Woven Water, which is now part of the collection of the National Art Gallery of Australia and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Australia, where she had an extensive solo show titled Zoomorphia in 2003. 

Intromitent organ of the Thelbunus mirabilus    (Tasmanian harvestman) Opiliones, resin, glass, metal. 28 x 6 x 6 cm aprox.  Edition of 5 + 2 AP, 2008-2009,

Intromitent organ of the Thelbunus mirabilus    (Tasmanian harvestman) Opiliones, resin, glass, metal. 28 x 6 x 6 cm aprox.  Edition of 5 + 2 AP, 2008-2009,

Recently her work with Emu feathers has earned her two prizes: one for her Fashion and Mimesis exhibition at Rodman Hall, Canada, and another for the exhibition Dead or Alive at the Museum of Art and Design in New York.

Selected collections include the Tate Gallery, London; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Australia; the National Art Gallery of Australia, Canberra;.the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; the Miami Art Museum; BLLA Bogota, Colombia; Museum of Modern Art, Bogota Colombia; the Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia; Gold Coast Art Gallery; Tamworth Regional Art Gallery; and the Newcastle Regional Art Gallery She is also collected by several ARTNews top100 private collections including the Cisneros Collection, Caracas/New York; the Ella Fontanal Cisneros Collection, Miami/Madrid; The Bruce and Diane Halle Collection Arizona; the Leonora and Jimmy Belilty Collection, Caracas/Paris; and the Daros Collection, Zurich/Rio de Janeiro.

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Mark but this flea: María Fernanda Cardoso: Zoomorphic Micro-aesthetics.


The lines between scientific analysis, naturalist empiricism, and artistic project have often been traversed in Latin American art. In the years that followed the “discovery” of the continent by Europeans, which also coincided with significant developments in scientific technology and research advanced by the “Enlightenment,” scores of scientists, naturalists and explorers—best exemplified by Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859)—accompanied by those that documented their finds—artist-illustrators—travelled through its territories to record its natural riches.

Thus Latin America became identified with the diversity of nature and with the imagery of a natural cornucopia, symbolized most prominently by the Amazon region.3 Colombian art in particular, having a strong tradition of traveller-artists, has often pro- duced reflections on the interrelations between the fields of art and science and their mutual fascination with the natural world. In recent years, artists such as María Fernanda Cardoso have been interested in interrogating the complex set of relationships that exists between art and scientific analysis.

Through her work she examines the proximities and the conflicts between nature and culture, our understanding of these terms and man’s place in the world. Likewise, she addresses the historical and current functions of museums, and the histories of colonialism with which they are interlinked. The symbolism of natural obser- vation and the cycles of life and death are also inter- woven into this history. 

1 John Donne (1572-1631), The Flea, poem published posthumously in 1633.

2 Micro-aesthetics has been used to describe aesthetic research focused on finding points of contact with mathematical or psy- chological objectification to establish a clear and scientific basis for concepts of pleasure and beauty. However, it might also be applied to the Surrealist project which employed microscopy for the reverse—as a means to find a basis for concepts of beauty in the irrational and strange. Micro-aesthetics has also been applied in the field of information theory. 

3 The coat of arms of Colombia, but also Panamá, Perú, and Venezuela all feature the image of the cornucopia.

By the help of Microscopes, there is nothing so small as to escape our inquiry; hence there is a new visible World discovered to the understanding. Robert Hooke, Micrographia (1665)

Cardoso Flea Circus live at the Opera House in Sydney, 2000. Performance live with Professor Cardoso and video artist Ross Rudesch Harley during the Sydney Festival . Photo: Anne Maregianno .

Cardoso Flea Circus live at the Opera House in Sydney, 2000. Performance live with Professor Cardoso and video artist Ross Rudesch Harley during the Sydney Festival . Photo: Anne Maregianno .

María Fernanda Cardoso’s work has consistently addressed the frequently paradoxical connections between nature and culture. Through her work she addresses the “complexities and intricacies of natural history,”4. humankind’s capacity to imbue nature with symbolism and metaphorical meaning, and explores the formal qualities and languages afforded by or existing within the natural world through a sculptural language that incorporates aspects of minimalism, conceptualism, and arte povera.

Often she has employed unconven- tional organic materials in her work, including plants or plant-derived materials that have particular cultural significance in Colombia such as corn, raw sugar, or gourds, as well as bones and preserved or desiccated animals including reptiles, piranhas, seahorses, or starfish, with which she creates geometric and fractal arrangements that refer to recent scientific theory and yet also recall the zoomorphic geometries of Pre-Columbian art.

Art is the microscope of the mind, which sharpens the wit as the other does the sight, and converts every object into a little universe in itself. William Hazlitt, The Round Table, On Imitation (1817)

Over the past three decades, Cardoso, in a practice based principally in sculpture and sculptural installa- tion but which also has encompassed video, perfor- mance, drawing, and photography, has often referred to the means and methods of scientific analysis, which are manifested and viewed in her work through the lens of history and in the light of changing prac- tices.

Thus the cultural history of the natural sciences underpins her work. Since the 1980s she has explored the cultural apprehension of nature and natural form, emphasizing the richness and extravagance of morphologies, or forms, available through the natural world, both in their existing and evolving forms and in the possibilities that they present for new forms and structures in art.

In this and other respects, the naturalist and pioneer of evolution Charles Darwin (1809-1882) has remained an important point of reference for her work. Through her work, she has therefore also evoked the symbolism and material components of the cabinet of curiosities, which com- bined a wide variety of cultural artifacts and artworks, rare or unusual organic objects and trophies, and historical documents —an eclectic mix of items of scientific, ethnographic and artistic interest.

Themes such as sexuality, the cycle of life and death, power and the cultural legacy of Colombia frequently recur in her work. She addresses mortality and also violence through her vertical cemeteries and wreaths com- posed of artificial tropical flora, works which are also informed by popular and traditional customs. 


4 María Fernanda Cardoso, The Aesthetics of Reproductive Morphologies, unpublished PhD Thesis (University of Sydney, 2012), p. 11.