Cow the udder way
project: Shrinking Cities, reinventing urbanism competition, 2004
award: Winning entry
dates: 17.-26. June 2005 (9 day public event)
commission: This project was developed for the archplus competition “Shrinking Cities: Reinventing Urbansim.”
team: Paul Cotter (film-maker), Gareth Morris (architect), Heidi Rustgaard (choreographer), Eike Sindlinger (architect), Ulrike Steven (architect), Susanne Thomas (choreographer, seven sisters group). Participating in the action in Liverpool were Mark Davis, Neil Pinguenet, Mark Saunders from Westcott Farm Devon.
funding: German Fedural Cultural Foundation
location: Toxteth, Liverpool.
exhibitions: Shrinking Cities (international touring)
What if you woke up one day with a herd of cows outside your front door?
On the 18th July, in the early hours of the morning, 5 cows, 5 calves, 3 stockmen and a milking parlour arrived in Toxteth, Liverpool and remained for 9 days. Over this period, aided by 5 ʻactorsʼ, the rituals of a dairy farm were performed within this new environment. From the base camp the cows were moved each day to one of four identifed temporary grazing sites, each of which had been formerly built-upon and is now classified „derelict“.
Walking down Park Street towards St. Gabriel’s Church in Toxteth, a Liverpool neighbourhood, a thrilling vista suddenly emerges. Expansive lawns generously open up among the individual rows of houses. The view looks down on the broad Mersey river, whose opposite bank houses harbors and industrial plants. This bank, by contrast, is home to an impressive montage consisting of an old gas tank, a towering industrial plant, and terraced houses. The landmarks of the city centre can be seen on the horizon.
Historically and performative reasons provoked the choice of cows as protagonists. Small-scale dairy farming had been widespread in the area for some years after the Second World War, and many older residents remembered this immediately upon seeing the cows. In addition, the effect of the restfully grazing cows, their massiveness and apparent vulnerability should not be underestimated. This addressed a sensory aspect of experience that in light of the obviously difficult behavior of many Toxteth children could already be seen as a value in and of itself. Being able to touch and smell the cows meant especially communicating about their presence, using a comprehensible and strong sign language, without making a clear and transparent statement. Bringing cows into this context was a strong and at the same time a playful gesture. The conscious focus on this simple gesture and its physical and sensitive qualities, the emphasis on the symbolic content, as well as the planning background disengaged the intervention from any burden or striving towards social change.
„Cow the Udder Way is an artistic-performance project which gives insights into the mental and psychological constitution of inner-city suburbia. A herd of cows is brought into the center of Liverpool for two weeks and, in addition, various (in part participatory) actions connected to the animals take place. These actions, and the reactions of passers-by and the local media to them, are to be videotaped. The theme of this entry is the symbolic selfpreserving and self-supplying system: the cow grazing on unused urban land as a supplier of different (and unusual) products, e.g. manure as a source of energy, urine as a cosmetic product, methane gas for burning, etc. Using an agro-urban bottom-up-method, the possibilities of an urban rethinking are visualized, in which the shrinking city is viewed as a new area for production and the public is invited to a discussion of alternative planning methods. The jury liked the provocative character of the entry. The project’s potential for stimulating a cultural discussion about the transformation and the reprogramming of urban areas is especially convincing.“