media: drawing, digital media, online media
concepts: more-than-human, networks, environment, technology
This is a project of becoming-with and being-with animals through disease.
If networks have somehow become disconnected, how can we
learn to track these back and discover our humanity through our more-than-human companions?
In collaboration with six universities in the UK, I am investigating our relationships with animals through farms and disease.
Funded by the FIELD Project, supported by the Wellcome Trust.
Partners are the universities of Lincoln, Hull, Leeds, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Glasgow.
rosi braidotti the posthuman (2013)
judith butler the force of nonviolence (2020)
María Puig de la Bellacasa Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More Than Human World (2017)
vinciane despret what would animals say if we asked the right questions? (2012)
michel foucault the will to knowledge (1961)
donna haraway staying with the trouble: making kin in the cthuluscene Duke University Press, 2016.
annemarie mol the logic of care: health and the problem of patient choice (2008)
john mcgahern that they may face the rising sun (2002)
james rebanksenglish pastoral (2020)
This project began in 2020, and will feature artworks about human and nonhuman collaborations,
Supported by the Wellcome Trust (UK) through the FIELD Project, with additional support and artwork development provided by the Leitrim Sculpture Centre, Ireland.
In November 2020 I visited five farms in Northumberland, one in Yorkhire, two in south Scotland and two in Ireland. This was to spend time with both
animals and farmers, and to gain an understanding of livestock disease from the perspective of farmers.
This residency, with site-visits, took place at the Allenheads Contemporary Art (UK) and the artists studio (Wicklow). It was supported by the FIELD Project,
and the professionals and academics affiliated with FIELD have helped in the design and understanding of this visit.
The farmers and the animals form part of the research for this project.
Project publications to date:
Part of the process of research and learning on this project has involved veing-with and drawing as a process of learning.
Aside from spending time sitting or standing with sheep, I have also been observing behaviours and movements through drawing.
By studying how lameness is made visible in the movement of animals, I developed some sketches and gifs that illustrate this movement, leading in turn to some engaging conversaitons with the research team.
A lame sheep bobs its head while it moves:
A healthy sheep keeps its spine straight:
As documented by PhD researcher Nicole Gosling of the University of Lincoln:
I was struck when you first shared your illustrations on Twitter because it was an aspect of lameness I had never thought about before. All of the historical sources I have looked at primarily discuss how to identify disease once you have already identified a lame sheep (i.e. skin lesions etc), but don’t describe what a lame sheep actually looks like. Looking at the sketch made me think about what the farmer would first see in the field. It struck me that since we have come at this question from different disciplinary backgrounds and different ways of knowing and investigating we have come up with different stories about lameness.
To which I responded:
When I think about it, I've realised that I didn't just observe how a lame sheep moved, I imitated it. I started out last December trying to design how people would move if faced with a similar disabling condition, for an installation, and noticed that it was always my head and upper spine that moved first when I tried to move like a lame sheep. Then I went back and looked at the sheep, and started drawing that movement and seeing it. So I suppose I'd consider your point that the texts "don’t describe what a lame sheep actually looks like" and offer that, maybe, the more important point is that they don't actually consider what a lame sheep feels like. We over-rely on our eyes sometimes. This is becoming with, and it's why I was so excited about that discovery. It's something that goes beyond empathy when you embody a condition like that. And it's a threshold that you all (on FIELD) seem to be crossing - the historian/social scientist/epidemiologist/economist collaboration forces you to think in different ways (or at least, it has forced me to do so!).
This type of discovery is also generating other interest in the broader research community. Professor Jasmeet Kaler, an epidemiologist at the University of Nottingham, pointed out on Twitter that they are using a similar observation to train machine learning algorithms to track lameness in sheep.
As part of the broader critique of technology that I am engaging in, I have started to look at the role of farmers and livesstock through the lens of bio-technology.
Starting from philosopher Bernard Stiegler's description of "technics" as "organised inorganic matter", I present possibilities of disorganised organic matter-as-technology.
Taking most influence from the writing of Vinciane Despret, who observes researchers who observe animals, I am looking at how bias dictates our understanding of animals, just as it does our understanding of technology.
I am using the method of being-with, spending time with sheep in their environment and learning together with them. This follows philosopher Donna Haraway and design ethnographer Anne Galloway in their processes of making kin.
To place animals in the mix will help us develop nonhuman or post-human philosophies that can perform flatter ontologies. We won’t be able to ignore things we’ve long kept hidden. We’ll be forced to think of others, of difference, of becoming rather than being. And I look forward to the opportunity to learn from animals, and not just about them.
Anne Galloway, Designing Stories for Humans and Nonhumans: An Interview With Anne Galloway 2012
As part of this process, I am building online interactive artworks that will form part of an online exhibition, in collaboraiton with two other artists on the FIELD project, Michele Allen and Mark Jones.
To help carry out these artworks, I have invested in and built some new modes of documentation.
I spent some time setting up a local server using NGinx and a Raspberry Pi.
I built a set of binaural microphones for 3-D style audio recording that uses the shape of your head to affect audio.
I am lucky with this project to have an exciting network of collaborators on the FIELD project.
Aside from the academics, I have also spoken to farmers, vets, sheep and cows as part of the dialogical process. I document here some of those who I have spoken to or collaborated with in the formation of these ideas. We are always learning from one another, so it is difficult to document the value of these conversations.
My thanks and love to all!