Location: Various Locations, Kitchener (Photo: Gordon Hatt)

To The Synanthropes is a multi faceted, creative research, public engagement and urban intervention project that will explore Kitchener-Waterloo’s relationship with synanthropes. Synanthropes are species that thrive within human-modified environments and are therefore ecologically associated with humans. Well known synanthropes include rats, mice, pigeons, seagulls, raccoons, squirrels etc. Though often considered pests, synanthropes proliferate exactly because of human action in urban ecologies; while we may say one thing culturally about these creatures, it is our material complicities with these species that allow them to thrive.

DodoLab is an experimental creative practice, directed by Guelph based Lisa Hirmer, that is focused on developing provocative approaches to working with the public in public and the nebulous reality of public opinion. Often modelled as a type of performative research, the work explores and responds to the public’s relationship with contemporary issues—meaning that it is never solely an idea in and of itself that is explored, but rather an idea in relation to the public’s (or more accurately a specific public, community or counter, public’s) understandings and beliefs about that idea. This interest in public ideas arises from a conviction in art production as a meaningful vehicle of resistance and change. DodoLab therefore works to create opportunities and mechanisms for meaningful conversation and exchange in the public sphere, drawing out a multitude of voices—from across cultures, generations, social spheres (and sometimes species) — and the diverse realities they reflect.

This project engages the general public to explore and question our perception of these prolific creatures and their place in the environments we consider ours. The aim is to play with popular ideas about wildlife, wildness and what counts as natural—in a humorous but critical way—in order to reframe popular ideas about nature and the contradictions held within this ideas and highlight our material interactions with a complex ecological world.

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Photos by Lisa Hirmer

Throughout the practice, DodoLab is concerned with barriers that prevent adaptation and change within human populations - the moments where we know we need to change but are not able or willing to do so. The focus of this project will be on the complex, hybrid ecologies in which we exist and act. This is a time when not only all of “nature” but also the very geology of our planet can be considered manufactured, forcing us to contend with highly blurred boundaries and complicated ecological conditions. We are lacking the ontological tools to understand this new condition of existence and so coming up with new narratives and vocabularies to talk about this reality is key to understanding our place as individual actors, not just observers, in the Anthropocene we live within.

By looking at the complexities of a local ecology that is neither capitalized nor romanticized, the aim of To The Synanthropes is to tease out contradictions that will lead to more nuanced ideas about the tangled natural and artificial material conditions in which we live our lives. By doing this in a public way the aim is to not only make visible the limits of popular ideas of nature but also to begin disrupting them.

To The Synanthropes has two phases. The first will be a series of performative field research events, in which DodoLab will probe the public’s relationships with the synanthropes living in the local urban environment. The second phase will use the data collected from this research to compose messages to synanthropes as large installations in and near Victoria Park. 

Curated and produced by CAFKA.

Other works in CAFKA.16