Cockatoo Island is one of four sites chosen for the 18th Biennale of Sydney. A small island in Sydney Harbour, steeped in early history, with large cavernous spaced buildings originally for shipbuilding and coupled with remnants of convict history and an undulating topography makes for intriguing spacial opportunities for artists. The shipyards former workshops is a perfect museum like setting to present Maria Fernando Cardosa’s Museum of Copulatory Organs (MoCo), a selection of scientific models (3D and 2D ) and photographs of insect genitalia, together with a film, Stick Insects most intimate moments.
Originally from Colombia, now living and working in Sydney, she is inspired by the animal and natural world. She is best known for her flea circus, whose smallest show on earth became a hit more than a decade ago, when she discovered the curious yet beautiful plant-like forms in insect genitalia, which then lead to a PhD at Sydney University on the study of insect genitalia, The Aesthetics of Reproductive Morphology. Whilst Cardosa’s work is placed within the context of art, much of her practice demonstrates a link between the disciplines of art and science. It raises the question what makes this art and not science? It is perhaps largely a matter of framing the work in the context of such an exhibition. Evolution has made this collection of dazzling shapes and reproductive devices however it takes the artist to make it become visible.
The installation gives us insights into world known only to scientists and our perception is compounded by the unbelievable, yet exotic display of nature as we have never seen it before.
Along with collaborator Ross Rudesch Harley, Cardosa has created an orthodox natural history museum encompassing her entire collection of objects, featuring scientific sculptures modelled from glass, metal and waxy 3D printed resin. MoCo’s extraordinary pieces are created using scanning electron microscope imaging to magnify and photograph the tiny appendages. These black and white photos, which are a part of the exhibition, are then transformed into large resin and glass sculptures. Cardoso and Harley understand the humorous aspect to their work. The exhibition’s title references the male obsession with penis size and is intentionally provocative, playful and ultimately true in relation to insects. They invite the viewer to consider the beauty of these sculptural forms, rendered with scientific precision as they exist in nature. The collection of the insect genitalia, featuring reproductive tracts and penises is wide ranging from the beautifully modelled insect and snail spermatoza, sex organs of the female fruit fly, to the penis of the daddy-long-legs. Video work and 3D prototypes displayed on small LCD displays are part of new media artist Harley’s contribution.
The vast collection has been accumulating over several years of study. It is not hard to understand the artist’s fascination with the subject: a close examination of these miniscule organs reveals an endless morphological variety all serving functions, including ensuring successful attachment. The installation gives us insights into world known only to scientists and our perception is compounded by the unbelievable, yet exotic display of nature as we have never seen it before. “It is a celebration of the diversity of life” Cardosa says.
Artist Statement: Maria Fernanda Cardoso
Genitalia are confined to the last two segments of the abdomen, and flea copulation has been hailed as one of the wonders of the insect world. The male, normally much smaller than his mate, slides beneath her from behind, embraces her back-to-belly with his antennae and softly caresses her genitalia. Then his tail curls up like a scorpion’s and he penetrates her with what Brendan Lehane calls ‘the most elaborate genital armature yet known’. The male, he writes, ‘possesses two penis rods, curled together like embracing snakes. Inside his body, the smaller rod moves outwards lambently, catching delicate skeins of sperm and moving it into a groove on the larger longer rod. Then the whole phallic coil slides out from this sensitive rear, the large rod enters the female and guides the thinner along beside it’. The thin rod continues inwards, eventually depositing its sperm and withdrawing. ‘Any engineer looking objectively at such a fantastically impractical apparatus would bet heavily against its operational success’ writes entomologist Miriam Rothschild, ‘the astonishing fact is that it works’.