Cowtroversy: Why is this artist camping out with dairy cattle in a busy city centre?

June 1st, 2016

Moo. It's a noise we're familiar with, but not one you'd expect to hear in certain places, like - say - the middle of Bristol, a large city in the west of England, until artist Nessie Reid appeared in said city centre with two cows and set up 'The Milking Parlour'. As you might guess from the cryptic name,...

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Moo. It’s a noise we’re familiar with, but not one you’d expect to hear in certain places, like – say – the middle of Bristol, a large city in the west of England, until artist Nessie Reid appeared in said city centre with two cows and set up ‘The Milking Parlour‘.

As you might guess from the cryptic name, it was a makeshift parlour, where the cows were milked. Reid, however, hadn’t taken a wrong turn on her way to a farm; this was a living, breathing piece of performance art, acting as comment about lowering the impact of farming and agriculture across the globe.

Reid’s mission was to provoke debate on how the dairy industry and wider farming can be made more sustainable. Crucially, Reid isn’t saying that the dairy industry shouldn’t exist; she just wants people to think a little more about exactly where their food comes from and the processes involved in producing it, as well as the resources that livestock use up.

And this wasn’t a part-time project: Reid was on site 24/7, sleeping on a straw bale bed in the parlour. Unsurprisingly, this all created quite a media buzz – local and national news teams swarmed the parlour to find out what was going on, animal rights groups demanded its closure, and bachelorette/hen parties, well, did what they parties do best: shout “WAHEEEEY” at it and then get a stranger to take their picture.

Amid all this, there was also plenty of actual debate: on the dairy industry, animal rights, veganism, sustainable farming, and much more – which was Reid’s original goal. So, mission accomplished in that sense. But did she go about it in the right way? Is the city centre no place for cattle? Or is it much crueller to carry on as we are, consuming without making that connection between what goes on our Cornflakes and udders that squirted it?

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