Goat Milking: from animal to object

SamanthaSweeting_milkingBramble  Last Tuesday, I milked Bramble the goat. She is still breastfeeding Hazel, her 7 week old kid, but as she is a rare breed Golden Guernsey raised for high milk yield, she produces a surplus. This excess milk needs to be drained daily for her comfort. It is a curious activity.


Unpasteurised goat milk has a host of health giving properties. For a start, it’s composition is relatively close to human milk. This in particular interests me.

800px-Romulus-RemusSome years ago, I milked a sheep, spraying the frothy liquid straight into my mouth like a warm milkshake. And now, drinking Bramble’s milk, I am reminded of that moment. I hear the sound of the mechanical milk pump beating out its pulse. But I am older and the  hot milk hits me with a pang of emotion; comforting and claustrophobic. Joyful and melancholic. Its richness overwhelms me.

The bulk of my research over the past 7 years has been concerned with inter-species dialogues and nurture; there is a lot I can write about milk. For the moment, however, I want to direct my focus to the milk stand.





Today, I started researching goat milking stands and found a world of architectural oddities.

1 Melissa_Thomas-210 CCStand9 DIY-Wood-Goat-Milking-Stand11 14559_A 3 061-176-01-im1 4 milkstand-004-12 Goat_Milking_Stand_2OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA 6 04-18-09023copy7 milkstand 8 goat-milking-stand10 foldstd

Friedrich Nagler in  World of Interiors April 2013 Photographs by Jan BaldwinThey make me think of Friedrich Nagler‘s little animal sculptures, made with reclaimed bits of metal, nuts, bolts, old taps, and so on.

I imagine a Jan Svankmajer stop-motion animation, where the milking stands come to life, running around the stable, eating hay and bleating.

Taken aside and photographed as objects of interest, they take on a gravitas unbelied by their banal utilitarian design. The inanimate object replaces the animal.

1.SamanthaSweeting_ZSLpony  2._SamanthaSweeeting_RockingHorse

1. Taken in the playground at ZSL London Zoo.
2. My childhood miniature rocking horse.


Performing with Horses or Of the Unicorn II

CAvalle! by dance company Le Guetteur – Luc Petton & Cie, performed in the Abbey Saint Léger de Soissons in 2010. The piece included 3 dancers, an Iberian stallion and a crow, and used a combination of choreography and improvisation.

In 2011, French artist duo Art Orienté objet – Marion Laval-Jeantet and Benoît Mangin – performed May the Horse live in me at Kapelica Gallery in Ljubliana, Slovenia. It was a bio-art experiment, in which Laval-Jeantet was injected with blood plasma extracted from a horse, to bring about a hybridisation of animal foreign body with her human body. In this interview with Aleksandra Hirszfeld, she describes the aims and effects of the performance. http://laznia.nazwa.pl/artandscience_wp/?page_id=306&lang=en


Discussing the work with Jurij Krpan, the gallery director, I was interested to hear of the soothing influence that an invited horse whisperer had on the skittish horse during preparations for the show. As soon as she stepped into the room, the horse gravitated toward her and relaxed as she stroked and massaged his body.

horse1 I am drawn to the prosthetic legs that Laval-Jeantet wears in this and an earlier performance, Felinanthropy (2009), and how they force the human movements closer to the animal. AOdO 2007 Felinanthropy

I am reminded of Rebecca Horn’s Body Sculptures of the 1970’s, in particular Unicorn.Rebecca_Horn.png

The Tate display caption reads:

Unicorn 1970-72
The unicorn was a medieval symbol for purity, chastity and innocence. The German title Einhorn also contains a pun on the artist’s name. This work was designed for a performance by a friend of the artist. Horn wrote: ‘the performance took place in early morning – still damp, intensely bright – the sun more challenging than any audience… her consciousness electrically impassioned; nothing could stop her trance-like journey: in competition with every tree and cloud in sight…and the blossoming wheat caressing her hips’. This account emphasises both graceful movement and the element of self-exposure that is often found in Horn’s work.

Item no 7 on my letter to father Christmas when I was 6: “Fury (sic) stickers and a shiny unicorn”.


Dancing with swans: Luc Petton

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– stills taken from a trailer for SWAN, conceived by Luc Petton and choreographed by him together with Marilén Iglesias-Breuker.

After choreographing numerous works around flight, Luc Petton decided eight years ago to work with real birds. An amateur ornithologist, he used a natural process developed in the 1950s by the Austrian ethologist Konrad Lorenz called imprinting to establish a relationship between humans and the birds.

“Birds, and especially anatidae — like ducks — will develop an attachment to the first beings they come across in their earliest days of life,” explained Michel Saint Jalme, the director of the zoo at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. “Normally there’s an attachment to the mother, but if we take the eggs and incubate them artificially, they will bond to the first person they come in contact with, and the attachment can be very strong.”

Throughout the summer of 2010 six professional female dancers took turns spending weeks in the barn with the birds. They talked to them, fed them, rolled around the ground with them, while the swans nipped their ears and noses, climbed on their backs and left a road map of scratch marks when they slipped off.

– text taken from an article by Amy Serafin in The New York Times, published 1 June 2012. There’s also an interesting short behind-the-scenes documentary by Michael Kurcfeld discussing the imprinting process: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/03/arts/dance/choreography-with-real-swans.html?_r=0

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I am so moved by this work, I wish I could travel to Brittany next week to watch the performance. It reminds me of a ballet I saw in Barcelona a few years ago, where a live peacock with interacting with the dancers. The peacock seemed so well trained, I wondered whether they took him on tour with them. Or did they train with new birds in every country? I also wonder what will happen to Luc Petton’s swans after the ballet stops touring? Will the dancers continue their relationships with the birds?

And here is an archival film of Anna Pavlova performing The Dying Swan, a ballet choreographed for her by Mikhail Fokine in 1905 to Camille Saint-Saens’s cello solo Le Cynge from Le Carnaval des Animaux.

Pavlova was originally inspired by watching swans in public parks and reading Lord Tennyson’s poem of the same name. She loved animals and later kept swans  in the garden of her North London home, so she could emulate their movements. Here she is famously photographed with her favourite, Jack.


Finally, the annual Royal Swan Upping takes place on the River Thames next month. I remember watching a video of my friend’s girlfriend many years ago, wearing a swan costume and dancing in the river as men in boats captured and counted the swans. I have been intrigued by the ritual ever since. Details here: http://www.royalswan.co.uk


Cat Dancers


An extraordinary story about human-animal relations. Cat Dancers (2008) is a documentary directed by Harris Fishman about about the lives and loves of exotic tiger dance troupe Ron and Joy Holiday and Chuck Lizza.

“I dreamt about it first. That Joy was a cat in a beautiful cat costume, and I was the trainer. And she disappeared and through some illusion she’d be transformed. That was the beginning of Ron and Joy Holiday. I had the most beautiful animals. I had the two most beautiful people in the world, a male and a female.”

Lifecycles on the farm

SamanthaSweeting_BrambleSamanthaSweeting_Hazel_1dayJust four short weeks after the birth of Hazel, our bouncy new Golden Guernsey kid, we have had to say goodbye to Dylan the Southdown Sheep. With his distinctive shaggy coat and docile nature, Dylan was one of the friendliest animals on the farm, always keen for some attention and a cuddle. His unexpected death leaves us heavy of heart. It prompted children from the Young Farmers Club to share stories about other animals that have died, reinforcing the role that animals can have in helping us come to terms with mortality. I am reminded of my beautiful little cat Sanglier, who died in 2008, and the grief that I instantly felt for her, yet struggled to access a couple months later when one of my closest friends died. I remember the bleating of the ewes on the neighbouring sheep farm, in the days after their lambs were taken away. Whether or not animals feel grief is a contentious issue, but they have long been used by humans as part of the mourning process.

SamanthaSweeting_Dylan_4Dylan (2008-2013)

Some of my previous works using animals to explore death:samanthasweeting_bestilalia_9SamanthaSweeting_runrabbitsamanthasweeting_bestilalia_BAC_7samanthasweeting_pheasant_9          (Click on images to view projects.)

Of the Unicorn

To continue on the equine theme.

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Ingeborg Svarc Lauterstein (left) and Robert Rauschenberg, students at Black Mountain College c.1948-1949. Ingeborg Svarc Lauterstein is dressed as a centaur or unicorn for a party. Costume designed and created by Robert Rauschenberg.