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"Material Witness: Maria Fernanda Cardoso, Douglas Gordon, Santiago Sierra, Johnny Coleman, Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba and Laylah Ali"
2004-01-23 until 2004-04-23
Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland
Cleveland, OH, USA United States of America

Featuring primarily installation-based works by some of the most acclaimed international artists working today. Material Witness presents works by Maria Fernanda Cardoso, Douglas Gordon, Santiago Sierra, Johnny Coleman, Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba and Laylah Ali. These six artists - representing Columbia, Scotland, Spain, Vietnam, and the United States feature art that bears witness to a range of philosophical and moral issues. Life and death, the impacts of the past on the present, violence, economic injustice and the struggle for political and spiritual freedom are underlying themes.

Made with sensual, symbolically charged materials, many of the works in the exhibition are distinguished by a rich "materiality." Thousands of flowers, visceral photographic images, a thick carpet of oak leaves, saturated color, and layers of vibrant sound are among the materials that figure prominently in this selection of works. Sweeping in scope, breadth of ideas and media, Material Witness features installations of works on paper, video, photography, and sculpture ranging in scale from the intimate to the monumental. The exhibition includes: a large-scale wall installation by Maria Fernanda Cardoso; an installation of large format photographs by Douglas Gordon; a performance-based video by Santiago Sierra; a site-specific installation by Johnny Coleman; a suite of miniature paintings on paper by Laylah Ali; and a film installation by Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba.

Poetic and evocative, at times stark or searing, the works in Material Witness evince a multitude of thoughts, feelings, and ideas that reflect upon the richness and depth of the human experience. The emphasis of Material Witness is work created since 2000, including one installation that is being created specifically for this exhibition.


Maria Fernanda Cardoso (Columbian) Cemetery-Vertical Garden (1992-2004), a monumental wall sculpture (12 ft high x 43 ft long) made with thousands of artificial lilies. Evoking various themes of life and death, this expansive and poetic work memorializes victims of violence everywhere, and in particular victims of political violence in Cardoso's native Columbia.

Douglas Gordon (Scottish) Croque Mort, 2000, an installation of 7 large-format photographs portraying the process of an infant becoming aware of itself at that moment when humans first discover their own physicality. The infant, portrayed in extreme close-up, bites her toes, a reference to the medieval era method of biting the toes of the fallen on battlefields to determine whether soldiers were dead or alive. These visceral images reference an infant's discovery of the body or essential "materiality" of human life - while simultaneously referencing our own mortality.

Santiago Sierra (Spanish, lives in Mexico) A performance-based video installation: Contraction Y Ordenacion de 30 Trabajadores Conforme A Su Color De Piel, 2002 (Hiring and Arrangement of 30 workers according to the color of their Skin). Sierra's work critiques capitalist economies by examining economic power and its impact along class and ethnic fault lines. Exploitation of labor is a central issue in his work. Provocative, sometimes inflammatory, Sierra's works confront audiences with such issues as racism and the social and economic ramifications of skin color in Western societies.

Johnny Coleman (American) A new site-specific work, Station to Station (2004) comprising an installation based on the concept of flight and refuge, made with a variety of found and fabricated materials - including aged wood, artifacts, dried foods, herbs, soil, clay, light and sound. This evocative, large-scale installation speaks to history and its impact on the present, addressing themes of slavery and emancipation while serving as a metaphor for political and spiritual transformation.

Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba (Japanese/Vietnamese) A video installation: Memorial Project Nha Trang, Vietnam: Towards the Complex--For the Courageous, the Curious, and the Cowards, (2001). This spellbinding video installation by the Japanese/Vietnamese artist Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba examines the impact of the Vietnam War and its aftermath, referencing the exodus of Vietnamese people who tried to flee the country by boat during the 1970s and 1980s. Shot entirely underwater, this film also reflects the plight of cyclo drivers (tricycle taxis), a marginalized and threatened community in Vietnam.

Laylah Ali (American) A suite of gouache on paper miniature paintings whose vivid cartoon-style narratives represents allegories of power and race in America, Ali's paintings of simplified, cartoon-style figures juxtaposed against a pastel blue sky, address issues of race, violence, power, and inequity. Engaged in capricious, humiliating, or violent situations, her figures depict scenes of conflict between the powerful and the weak. With subtle, and at times explicit allusions to the Ku Klux Klan, civil rights, tribal warfare, and other forms of brutality, Ali's work, bears witness to the cruelty and violence that humans are capable.


The exhibition, curated by Senior Curator Margo Crutchfield, will remain at MOCA Cleveland through April 25, 2004. An anonymous donor as well as financial support from Donna and Stewart Kohl has generously supplied funding for Material Witness.

Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba
Still from Memorial Project Nha Trang,
Vietnam: Towards the Complex--For the Courageous, the Curious, and the Cowards, (2001)

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