I don’t believe in our superiority as humans at all I am in awe with the small.

Well I never thought I could be an artist. Because I didn’t know how to draw, I thought maybe I could be an architect like my parents. After a year and a half of architecture.

I transferred to the art department and I was not looking back. I’ll give you a tour

This is a tree fern and you see these little spiral shapes. Do you see them in this?

I have loved this since my childhood. We have this in Colombia. The same tree because Gondwana and Australia, we’re connected South America and Australia were once part of Gondwanaland.

When I decided to live here I thought I would connect to this continent through nature and especially through the animals. I thought, I want to do something very Australian but a kangaroo is too cliché so I went to sheep.

The next animal that I chose to work with was emu. I worked with the feathers. I worked with the skin. I worked with the eggs and with the legs. I never imagined moving to Australia

My universe was first Colombia and then I moved to New York to study but I’d never met any Australians. I came to check it out and I loved being closer to nature. Nature is more present in Australia

This is a leaf-curling spider. It looks like a dead leaf. But it has been stitched together by this I love working at the edge of perception. What fascinates me about the small is that it’s even more complex than the big.

I work with live animals including live fleas

‘Ladies and gentlemen’. ‘We’re here today to see the smallest show on Earth’.

'Flea Circus' was a very transformative project. It completely changed the way I made art. It became narrative. It became humorous. It was about parallel worlds. Fleas are big enough that you can see them with your plain eye. So it was really at the edge of perception and I love that space. When I was doing research about the fleas.

I read this quote that cracked me up which described the male apparatus of the flea as the most elaborate genital structure ever in the natural world.

Decades later I was looking for a new project. A new direction and I remembered that quote I went to the library at the Australian Museum, which is the museum of natural history and I spent a whole summer going book by book looking for the reproductive organs of all sorts of creatures

What I found really opened my eyes, this big. Humans, we need to be more humble. There was so much diversity, so much complexity. I thought, this is not just one piece. This is a museum

We tend not to talk about things that are difficult and uncomfortable like death or sex. I lived through one of the most violent and dangerous eras in Colombian history. We were confronted with death, with terrorism on a daily basis. So I think it was a process of grieving and representing death.

And being able to look at it, face it, and talk about it. For me art is freedom. And, of course, it’s informed by the natural world.

Maria Fernanda Cardoso creates art that explores nature and its links to culture and science. ‘For me, art is freedom, and of course, it’s informed by the natural world’, says the artist.

One of the artist’s best-known works is The Cardoso Flea Circus (1994-2000), a six-year series of performances and installations in which Cardoso trained fleas to perform tasks and surprising feats of strength.

In this film, we visit Cardoso’s home and studio in Sydney, Australia to discover more about her work.

Tate, The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) and Qantas are partners in an International Joint Acquisition Programme for contemporary Australian art. Maria Fernanda Cardoso On the Origins of Art 1 2016 and was purchased jointly by Tate and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia with fund provided by the Qantas Foundation, 2016.