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María Fernanda Cardoso's Woven Water, Submarine Landscape I​, 2003; Butterfly Drawing - Morpho didius III (Peru), 2004; and Butterfly Drawing - Morpho didius VII (Peru), 2004 at Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA)

María Fernanda Cardoso, Woven Water, Submarine Landscape I​, 2003. Photo courtesy María Fernanda Cardoso.

MCA Collection: Maria Fernanda Cardoso, Woven Water, Submarine Landscape I, 2003

The woven nets of sea stars suspended from the ceiling in Woven Water, Submarine Landscape hang in the air like the ghosts of burst fireworks, a skeletal memorial to an explosive and momentary energy. The dead sea stars that Maria Fernanda Cardosa has used in her installation are found in tropical waters around the world and sold as souvenirs in coastal resorts and towns. Cardosa was living in San Francisco when she made this work, where sea stars sold as mementoes of Fisherman’s Wharf are sourced from as far away as the Phillippines. This kind of intercontinental drift – whether through trade, migration or ocean currents – is familiar to Cardoso, who has lived in South America, North America and Australia. In this work, she presents a congregation of aquatic life forms outside of their natural habitat, dried and bleached in the foreign element of air.

The five arms of the sea stars join to form symmetrical clusters that branch across space in uniform but organic progression.  Their connections form irregular shapes that suggest the constellations of galaxies as they wheel around our planet, or the changing energy of water as it surges and laps at sea and shore. As they twist and furl in their interconnectedness, Cardoso’s sculptures resemble other life forms and phenomena – a spider’s web, a bird’s nest, an insect’s cocoon.  Like bones and fossils, these remnants of living creatures are a kind of memento mori that invites us to reflect on death and its other, life. In its repetitive structure, Woven Water, Submarine Landscape bridges the macrocosm of sky and sea and the microcosm of cellular building blocks that, like the twisting helix of DNA, form the foundations of life.