Ruminant is an installation that combines sculpture, video, sound, and performance. Ethnographic research informs a visual language that embraces proximity through the lens of a contemporary relationship with cows, in the context of the small family farm. The work utilizes the feminist ethics of care, in which interpersonal connection, care, and interconnectedness are virtues essential to moral action. Ruminant is sequential and creates an overarching narrative of the cyclical nature of the human-cow relationship. The viewer experiences first, an immersive sound installation which distills the tender and intimate relationship between a woman and her dairy cow as they participate in the twice-daily ritual of hand milking. A five-minute film inhabits the territory of the cow, presenting the physicality of human-cow interaction and playing with notions of becoming with. A separate interactive video installation explores interspecies mimesis and alterity through movement; performance documentation investigates vulnerability and the reversal of typical power structures assumed by both species. The exhibition concludes with a process video and sculpture constituted of the hide of bovine collaborator, who suffered an accidental death during the course of the artist's’ studies. The installation seeks to investigates the following questions: what is the role of proximity in developing empathy and kinship? How do we generate a somatic language to reveal our ancient covenant with cows?
A ruminant is one who chews the cud, who ingests plant-based food only to regurgitate it and chew it over, and over, again. Ruminant stems from the Latin rūmināre, which means to chew cud; a term that aptly describes the primary daily activity in which my small herd of dairy-cow-collaborators participate. Humans have adopted this word in verb form, to ruminate. To ruminate as humans means chewing our own cud, meditating on or thinking deeply about whatever it is we might be chewing.
In this body of creative work, I am physically and metaphorically chewing on the individual cow and the archaic nature of the human/cow relationship. What does it mean to have kinship with a cow? Touch, slow movement, proximity, being vulnerable. To feel an affectionate bond with an individual animal and simultaneously rekindle a 10,000 year covenant of domestication.
My research-based practice visualizes and investigates interspecies kinship through a combination of sculpture, video, sound, installation and performance. I use ethnographic methods to generate a multi-sensory language, to listen for a response, and to accept responsibility for those who do not have a human voice. My work reconsiders the now distant bond between humans and cows, utilizing the feminist ethics of care, in which interpersonal connection, care, and interconnectedness are virtues essential to moral action. I question how we respond, rather than one of what is it. The ethics of care are my lens with which I explore the intersection of contemporary art, animal studies, and improvisational performance. My practice exists in both the studio and pasture. The past ten months, I have been a micro-dairy and bovine apprentice at Firesign Family Farm in Whitmore Lake, MI.
Cows are a ubiquitous presence. They are here, in the private spaces of our freezers and handbags, yet living cows are there, absent from our modern day lives. The wild which cows once wandered no longer exists and cows are a species domesticated yet not valued in the way a companion animal might be. Responsibility towards individual cows and the bovine species is uniquely human; considering the well-being of the sentient nonhuman world is an effective way to extend our compassion outside of our human species and overwhelming human needs. My research comes from a place of deep spirituality, compassion, and care; fully recognizing the interconnected, debt-riddled, and complicated history we share with the cow.