The Cardoso Flea Circus Video
March 19 – April 19 1998
The circus is in town - almost - to inaugurate the New Museum’s Public Access space. Large hand-painted banners provide the backdrop for a video showcasing Maria Fernanda Cardoso’s revival of the flea circus. Fusing the techniques of nineteenth-century flea trainers with her own innovations, Cardoso has created a unique art form that blends performances, sculpture, sciene, music, and folklore to thrill both young and old.
The banners are rounded out by placards that set out the history of the flea circus and the remarkable biology of these talented insects. Also on display is the handmade apparatus used by Cardoso’s fleas in their performance. The centerpiece is the projected video, directed by Ross Rudesch Harley with a soundtrack by Christian Marclay and Beo Morales.
The video opens with the entrance of the artist as Queen of the Fleas, wearing the silvery costume and goggles of her Professor CArdoso personal. As ringmaster, Cardoso puts the fleas through their paces. Flea dancers appear first, followed by acrobats. Weight lifters, tango dancers, and tightrope artists appear in quick succession. We see a dramatic sword fight in silhouette, gasp as the Strongest Flea on Earth lifts a toy locomotive, and agonize as Sir Fleamund Hillary scales Mount Everest. The show concludes with a ceremonial feeding of the fleas as the credits roll.
Cardoso, born in 1963 in Bogota, Columbia, earned in MFA in sculpture at Yale University. In the late 1980s and eary 1990s she exhibited sculptures incorporating preserved animals or parts of animals - frogs, fish, insects - into startling arrangements. In the early 1990s, she turned her attention to the flea circus, and has since become the world’s leading trainer of fleas, presenting her circus live in museums and at festivals worldwide. This installation is the first exhibition of Cardoso’s work in a New York museum.