On September 7th, 2001, Vital 5 presents the work of Erik Strickland and Maria Cordova. Self Censored exhibits the work of two artists that inhabit two different hemispheres, work in different mediums and live high contrast lives, but share one very unusual and powerful act - both censored their own artwork in an act of self preservation. While their images are damaged beyond recognition, there can be no denying the power of the remaining artifacts and the narration which reveals the identity of their work.

As a graduate of the Chicago Art Institute, Erik Strickland returned to his home town of Copper Harbor, Michigan, where he continued painting in a secluded barn and worked for the family business. Ten months later he was discovered with a can of carpet adhesive in his hand and every  canvas in the barn glued face to face. Narrated by his 13 year old brother Karl - one of the few people to ever witness the original works - the twenty two canvases on display emerge as vivid, often brutal portraits in the mind of the viewer.

What would you do if you opened your front door and found your husband's dismembered body stacked on your doorstep? As a field worker from a small hillside village outside Cartagena, Columbia, Maria Cordova found herself asking this very question. Marie borrowed an old medium format camera from a neighbor and photographed the remains of her husband. So angered by the injustices that surrounded her, Maria Cordova set out to capture the scenes of abuse, torture, corruption and violence that she had spent a lifetime in fear of.

On assignment in Columbia for Outside Magazine, Seattle photographer David Victor heard about Maria's work while passing through Cartagena. The only American to witness her shocking black and white photographs, David agreed to smuggle her pictures back to the United States, but when he returned Maria was  gone and her homemade studio was destroyed. Thirteen photographs were scattered around her home, covered in what appeared to be black ink. David gathered the sabotaged works and caught the first flight back to the states. Recounting from exposed peripheral details, David Victor narrates the work  that put Maria Cordova's name on the local police department's extended missing persons list.

It was left to the Seattle art viewer's in attendance to determine if indeed these artists existed at all, or if they were constructions of Vital 5. What was left to the audience's determination was if it mattered of they were real or imagined. After all, isn't all art a fiction, a fabrication from an artist's imagination? In this case, Marie Cordova and Erik Strickland were indeed just that. 

Each destroyed artwork had a descriptive tag next to it - a description of the art based upon David Victor and Karl Strickland. It is only through these narratives that the audience could envision the original content of the piece. Here are three examples:

Untitled - 5 Maria Cordova

"This is a remote FARC guerrilla camp that Maria called 'the city of hostages'. A person in Columbia is kidnapped every 3 minutes and it has become a big business. This photograph shows twenty of more hostages, some Latinos, some American and Asian tourists. Each has a number spray painted on their shirts, to keep them organized and accountable. Many of the guards are women, carrying machine guns. Maria's eldest son was a member of FARC." - David Victor

My Greatest Piece of Work - Erik Strickland

"There are all these giant containers marked with stuff. Erik is standing naked over this big container marked 'pee' and peeing into it. It's pretty huge, like how much water would be in a swimming pool. There are other containers, and they are baked with weird stuff too, like 'cigarette butts' and 'toenail clippings' and 'sperm' and 'beer bottle caps'. All of these containers are full except for the one marked 'art'. This one only has a few paintings in it and it looks pretty empty compared to the other ones. That's pretty much it.                          - Karl Strickland

Can't Serve Them Fast Enough - Erik Strickland

"This one was really sick too. This is the back kitchen at Peter Johnson's Trout Barn - it's a restaurant down the street. Two of my brother's friends, Donnie and Dave used to work there. In this picture Donnie is taking a pee into the deep fryer and Dave is taking a dump on the grill, shaped like a hamburger. Those guys probably did that stuff.  When they worked I never ate there." - Karl Strickland