Cow the udder way

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.
press:
27/06/05 BBC NW evening news ”Jersey by the Mersey
28/06/05 Liverpool Echo ”Amazing Graze”
30/06/05 BBC Radio Merseyside breakfast show
24/06/05 Farmers Guardian ”Jerseys take a city break”
02/07/05 Farmers Weekly ”Merseyside visit for DevonJerseys”
25/11/05 Leipziger Tageszeitung 25.11.2005 “Kühe inder Leerstelle”
01/2006 Green Futures “Move over Tracey”
09/10/05 Independent, The Sunday Review ‘Daisy’s Big Adventure”
01/2006 Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
2005 Archplus
publication:
2005 Shrinking Cities, Volume 2, Interventions (Hatje Cantz)
2008, Actions: What you can do with the city (Canadian Centre for Architecture)
exhibitions: Shrinking Cities
related:
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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“.
The COW the udder way project focused on Liverpool and effects of ‘shrinkage’ on the inner city areas of Toxteth. Through engagement with the public, the performance/event created a platform for debate on how derelict or neglected land could be used in the future, and suggested urban agriculture as one way of appropriating these spaces.
The event recieved great interest from the local residents, the press, radio and television. Documentation from the event has also been exhibited internationally as part of the Shrinking Cities Reinventing Urbanism exhibition. watch film


COW-the udder way
(Text by Gregor Harbusch, translated from German by Brian Currid)

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.
But what use is a poetic view that overlooks the facts behind the forms? Toxteth is one of the poorest, and most disadvantaged parts of Liverpool. What this means-beyond the familiar, disturbing statistics-becomes evident when one encounters the masses of children on the streets and witnesses a six-year-old sniffing cigarette lighter fluid out of patent boredom and a few teenagers breaking a windshield just as a female driver is leaving the vehicle. Over the past few decades, Toxteth has increasingly become the reality of life for an underclass that began to form in Liverpool as it declined in economic importance after the Second World War; today, there are families here who are dependent on state support for the second or even third generation.
In this area dominated by urban problems, an experiment was set up that was remarkably simple. “COW-the udder way” consisted of no more than placing a small herd of cows in one of the many public spaces of Toxteth for nice days, and waiting and seeing what would happen. The action was characterized neither by broad networking with local actors beforehand, nor intensive public relations, nor initiatives or workshops for residents, nor even a socially educative drive for sustainability. The initiators speculated (successfully) on the local dynamic that would develop spontaneously when a herd of cows suddenly turned up in the middle of Toxteth.

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.
With this action, the initiators inspired reflection as to whether self-organized urban farming could be an option for Toxteth, and with it the question as to how empty lots could be used beyond the standard strategies of improvement. This exemplified the potential that lay in the vacant lots, making it available for experience for just a brief time. It is no up to residents to draw their own conclusions.


Shrinking Cities jury report, 2005
by Azra Aksamija, Ruedi Baur, Regina Bittner, Stefano Boeri, Anne Lacaton, Georg Schöllhammer

„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.“