Ruth Burke's Digital Portfolio

My research-based practice visualizes and investigates interspecies kinship through sculpture, video, sound, installation and performance. I embrace relational aesthetics as a mode of working and through a long term research project at at a local farm, I collaborate with a small herd of dairy cows to generate artworks. The work weaves together interspecies somatic registers: materially referencing the pastoral vernacular and engaging touch, auditory, and olfactory senses. Our senses are aspects of existence we share with cows.

My research considers the historical relationship between women and cows, which I deem an implicit kinship. Following the feminist tradition of honoring first-person narratives, I am an ever-present character in my work, often constructing costumes and performances to play with the slippage between human and cow. I adopt Donna Haraway’s framing of interspecies interactions as “performances of the everyday” and pull source material from rituals of care with my cows; this manifests as sound, video, and sculpture.

The videos portray corporeality and movement is an important aesthetic. I use it as a measurement device to convey my own familiarity with a specific cow. The work plays with the slippage between woman and cow and at times I mimic their behavior, as seen in the short film, Emblem of Rural Quiet.

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. I aim to bring this responsibility to the conversation around my work and to change the conventional consciousness surrounding these creatures.

The first body of work you will see is Ruminant. Ruminant is a multi-sensory installation that uses sculpture, performance, video, and movement to explore interspecies kinship, particularly, what it means to have kinship with a cow. The artist follows in the feminist tradition of honoring first-person narratives, therefore, the artist is an active character in much of the work. The installation is sequential and the following photos will bring a viewer through as intended by the artist.

Ruminant, installation view.

Keeping everyone comfortable, 2017. Eight-channel Sound Installation. 8' x 6' x 22'. This sound installation distills the sensory and auditory experience of sitting down to hand milk a cow. Sounds of a woman singing and talking to her cows as they partake in the twice daily ritual bounce through eight speakers spread over the 20' corridor. In the middle is a place for a listener to sit and the bench is flanked by two ear-height speakers on either end. Behind the bench and on the opposite wall are heated protruding forms, referencing the sensation of being next to a 1,000 lb animal. Recordings were taken over the course of four months at Firesign Family Farm in Whitmore Lake, MI.

Keeping everyone comfortable, 2017. Eight-channel Sound Installation. 8' x 6' x 22'. This sound installation distills the sensory and auditory experience of sitting down to hand milk a cow. Sounds of a woman singing and talking to her cows as they partake in the twice daily ritual bounce through eight speakers spread over the 20' corridor. In the middle is a place for a listener to sit and the bench is flanked by two ear-height speakers on either end. Behind the bench and on the opposite wall are heated protruding forms, referencing the sensation of being next to a 1,000 lb animal. Recordings were taken over the course of four months at Firesign Family Farm in Whitmore Lake, MI.

Keeping everyone comfortable, 2017. Eight-channel Sound Installation. 8' x 6' x 22'. This sound installation distills the sensory and auditory experience of sitting down to hand milk a cow. Sounds of a woman singing and talking to her cows as they partake in the twice daily ritual bounce through eight speakers spread over the 20' corridor. In the middle is a place for a listener to sit and the bench is flanked by two ear-height speakers on either end. Behind the bench and on the opposite wall are heated protruding forms, referencing the sensation of being next to a 1,000 lb animal. Recordings were taken over the course of four months at Firesign Family Farm in Whitmore Lake, MI.

Keeping everyone comfortable, 2017. Eight-channel Sound Installation. 8' x 6' x 22'. This sound installation distills the sensory and auditory experience of sitting down to hand milk a cow. Sounds of a woman singing and talking to her cows as they partake in the twice daily ritual bounce through eight speakers spread over the 20' corridor. In the middle is a place for a listener to sit and the bench is flanked by two ear-height speakers on either end. Behind the bench and on the opposite wall are heated protruding forms, referencing the sensation of being next to a 1,000 lb animal. Recordings were taken over the course of four months at Firesign Family Farm in Whitmore Lake, MI.

Ruminant, installation view.

Emblem of Rural Quiet, 2017. Digital video. 5'36". A five-minute film inhabits the territory of the cow, presenting the physicality of human-cow interaction and playing with notions of becoming with. In this video, I don the tail of my deceased collaborator Shyanne, as a method of playing with notions of "becoming with". The tail allows me to mimic the gestures of the cows as they attempt to deter the late Autumn flies.

Ruminant, Installation view.

Trough, 2016. Performance. Digital C-Print 30" x 40”. This performance reverses the typical power structures engaged in by humans and cows. I am on my knees in a blue costume that features a large cone around the most vulnerable part of my body. The cone is filled with treats. Cows are dichromatic and see muted shades of yellow and blue. How might this costume be an anomaly in their otherwise black-and-grey landscape? How might it alter how the cows understand my humanness? photo by Emily Schiffer

Trough, 2016. Performance. This performance reverses the typical power structures engaged in by humans and cows. I am on my knees in a blue costume that features a large cone around the most vulnerable part of my body. The cone is filled with treats. Cows are dichromatic and see muted shades of yellow and blue. How might this costume be an anomaly in their otherwise black-and-grey landscape? How might it alter how the cows understand my humanness? photo by Emily Schiffer. Image not included in Ruminant.

Forever Heifer, 2017. Wood, hardware, paint, projector, motion sensor, 7' x 48" x 6'. This freestanding sculpture is multiform in it's structural references: it is a shed, a trough, a stanchion. The sculpture is completed by the presence of a body: a motion sensor triggers a two minute screendance.

Forever Heifer, 2017. Wood, hardware, paint, projector, motion sensor, 7' x 48" x 6'. This freestanding sculpture is multiform in it's structural references: it is a shed, a trough, a stanchion. The sculpture is completed by the presence of a body: a motion sensor triggers a two minute screendance.

Forever Heifer, 2017. Wood, hardware, paint, projector, motion sensor, 7' x 48" x 6'. This freestanding sculpture is multiform in it's structural references: it is a shed, a trough, a stanchion. The sculpture is completed by the presence of a body: a motion sensor triggers a two minute screendance.

Inside, a blend of timothy and alfalfa hay triggers a viewer's olfactory senses, transporting us out of the gallery and into the territory of the cow.

Forever Heifer, 2017. Screendance. 2'15". This two minute video explores interspecies improvisation and call-and-response. The performer wears a costume reminiscent of a milkmaid; the osage orange color references the dichromatic visions of cows. Ruby, the Jersey heifer, willingly engaged with the performer without any incentive outside of satisfying her curiosity of my movement.

Ruminant, 2017. Installation view.

We are Flesh, Fat, and Blood, 2016. Digital video. 3' 32". Installation view.

We are Flesh, Fat, and Blood, 2016. Digital video. 3' 32". Installation view.

We are Flesh, Fat, and Blood, 2016. Digital video. 3' 32". Six weeks after performing "Trough", my bovine collaborator Shyanne, escaped her pasture in the middle of the night. She ran into the road and was hit by a drunk driver. Waist-deep in the messy condition of loving another species, I cared for her body in the only way I knew how: I tanned her hide as a form of grieving. My friend was here in a physical capacity yet she, and every personality trait that made her unique, was not there, fostering a simultaneous presence and absence. Despite her accidental death, I continued to care for my friend through the fleshing and tanning process.

Closer to Closure, 2017. Cow hide, soil. 7' x 7' x 3.5'. Upon learning of Shyanne's death, I was devastated. And it was not easy working through and coming to terms with the fact that what I touched was so clearly not her. "That knotted thing as we call the body has left; it is undone...we are kin to the dead because their bodies have touched us" -Donna Haraway

Closer to Closure, 2017. (detail). Cow hide, soil. 7' x 7' x 3.5'. Upon learning of Shyanne's death, I was devastated. And it was not easy working through and coming to terms with the fact that what I touched was so clearly not her. "That knotted thing as we call the body has left; it is undone...we are kin to the dead because their bodies have touched us" -Donna Haraway

Ruminant, 2017. Installation view.

Other Works:

Bond I-XI, 2016. C-prints, dimensions variable. Ongoing photo series that documents the visual residue of licking. Licking is an vital factor in cows ability to establish intraspecies bonds.

Gopi, 2016. Performance with hand-sewn and dyed garment. Shania the cow refuses to be a symbol and refuses the artists gesture.

Gopi, 2016. Performance with hand-sewn and dyed garment. The cows eagerly investigate the object once they are able to approach it on their terms.

Gopi, 2016. Gallery/Installation view.

​Bargaining Tool (2,000 pounds), 2016. Sweet feed. 123 cm x 152 x 136 cm. A feeder cow consumes this amount, 2000 lbs, of grain from six months to approximately one year. At around one year, they go toslaughter. The animal consumes without awareness or understanding of the intent with which they’re served with the feed. Cow consumes grain, cow supplies fertilizer for grain, human consumes cow.

Countering the Bull, 2016. Two hour site specific performance.

Bosporus, the strait of water that divides the two sides of Istanbul, means “cattle crossing”. Zeus chased Io across this divide of water and on the Asian side, she turned into a cow to hide from him. The unofficial symbol of Kadikoy is the bull. And in the middle of the city is a giant, bronze bull sculpture.

The bull is a multilayered symbol, used by hundreds of different cultures and religions at various times in history. It represents physical strength, power, a positive market, the inability of humans to tame “beasts. Like it’s female counterpart, the cow, the bull is fertile and therefore was often subjected to ritual sacrifice. We’re presented with violence as a method for conquering the bull, as exhibited in bullfighting. Do we have sympathy for the bull, for the animal that is burdened with this great symbolism, upon which humans placed this meaning?

A Turkish cultural storyteller told me that when there is a moment of unplanned silence in a group, it is said that it signifies a girl was born. Why? Because if it was a boy, there would have been laughing, shouting and singing.

Two women clutch each other in silence on top of the hyper masculinized sculpture, faces covered by a veil of lace that is reminiscent of grandmother’s curtains. Their gesture of compassion towards one another makes the aggressive sculpture secondary as a focal point. This was a two-hour performance.

Images from Mapping Empathy, 2016. Fiber sculptures and "empathy mapping" drawings (graphite on paper).

During my time in Istanbul, I completed a five-week artist residency at halka art projects, a non profit gallery on the Asian side of the city. The project, which focused on women’s voices in a censored and patriarchal society, was contingent upon community participation and a willingness to engage with a complete foreigner.

I was lucky to have an assistant during my residency, Fem. She provided translations of the interviews after they were finished. I am not a Turkish speaker and was surprised at the lack of English spoken in the city. This created space to embrace aspects of communication that transcend an individual’s lexicon.

One-on-one interviews were held at the residency in the studio. I initially had planned to bring the portable recording studio into public areas but with the frequency of violent bombings, the intimate and private space of the studio was both more physically and emotionally safe.

Interview questions were sent to participants beforehand. Generally speaking, they addressed personal experiences of being a woman in Turkish society, what the duties of a woman are and, following best practices in oral history, concluded with asking participants if there was anything else they’d like to say or add. After the session concluded, I burned the audio onto a CD for each woman. If time permitted, I asked that they collaborate with me to create a physical representation of their experience. These were shown alongside audio at the exhibition in halka’s gallery space. All recorded interviews were not shown during the exhibition at the request of some participants.

Burgazada Ride, 2016 (excerpt). Digital video, 30 minutes total. Excerpt 21s. Continuing to use ethnographic methods in generating visual work, I took rides around the island of Burgazada by horse-drawn carriage. Burgazada is one of the Prince Islands off the coast of Istanbul, where gas-powered vehicles are not permitted. I was interested in seeing how the horses are treated and what their owner's attitudes were around keeping working animals.

Between Love and Mastery, 2016. Cedar, MDF, hand-crafted leather ties, horse bits, paint, leather cord. 8" x 10" x 10". This installation visualizes the tension inherent in loving an animal and keeping them for a utilitarian purpose.

Between Love and Mastery, 2016. (detail) Cedar, MDF, hand-crafted leather ties, horse bits, paint, leather cord. 8" x 10" x 10". This installation visualizes the tension inherent in loving an animal and keeping them for a utilitarian purpose.

Herd II, 2016. Performance.

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