Tamara Szponder

Anthropomorphism is pervasive throughout history and across cultures. It is somehow innate to feel familiar with, and even altruistic towards, beings that inhabit our planet. Anthropomorphism, however, is also egocentric. We project assumptions onto beings simply because they share similar traits with us. These projections of our human selves onto the natural world do more that enlighten our own understanding of the relationships we share with animals; they demonstrate an almost subconscious understanding of how we handle our gut feelings in this world. These feelings include those of overwhelming helplessness, hopelessness, and inevitable devastation towards our environment, towards our society and personally within ourselves and our significance.

Somewhere in between our understanding of animals and our own emotional projected selves, is folklore. In folklore animals become talking, upright walking beings, while humans wear masks to make themselves more animalistic.These metamorphic creatures should be hardly recognizable. Yet, rather than dismiss their presence as obscene, our brains are hardwired to feel for them. Show a child a picture of a monster and they feel fear. Trees with faces are oddly wise.

The intersection of folk and craft and Canadian culture within the visual arts is appealing for me.  My research topics include folk and craft history, anthropomorphism and anthropological research methodologies. And looking at pictures of Canadian animals. Sometimes I cheat and I look at non Canadian animals too. These considerations influence my practical work. Some examples of this intersection include nesting dolls (nesting bears) and origami paper cranes (origami paper Canadian geese). I also use anthropomorphic imagery to challenge conventions about art and culture and humanity. My research and practice is culturally relevant in that it directly addresses and problematizes ideas about cultural mixing which is especially relevant in a country whose life is comparatively short and whose history is very colonial. So, through the manipulation of certain forms of existing and made up craft, I push the boundaries and definitions of the ‘Canadian’ artifact. I'm Interested in animals because they are akin to uninhibited humans. They can be narrative and allegorical. They can simply be representational and therefore anthropomorphic. They can act as a stand in for language when language fails. They can get to the root of behaviour. It is basic and primal, like archeological artifacts. They last, like that archaic clay pot that we can use to understand. And what is more is that they evoke an understanding so innate and familiar that it goes beyond language and forces us to recognize our own animality.