26,500 dairy farms existed in the UK in 2001; by 2011 there were 14,700. In 1950 there were no less than 196,000 dairy farms, which means that over the past 60 years, 92.5 per cent of them have disappeared. More and more the next generation are turning away from dairy farming because they simply cannot afford to make ends meet.
In Bristol, in Spring 2016, Nessie Reid will be exhibiting The Milking Parlour: a performance based public exhibition exploring the values we hold towards our food and the type of relationships we possess with our food and farming system in general. In order to explore these themes, Nessie has chosen to use the medium of milk: something once hailed as a superfood – providing 34 % of our RDA of protein – now undervalued, and often cheaper to buy than bottled water.
Nessie will live with two cows for 5 days in Bristol City Centre, constructing a temporary milking parlour. The intention of taking two cows out of their usual context – the farm- and into an urban environment – the centre of Bristol – is to represent the disconnect between the cities we live in and the food we eat, the milk we consume and the natural processes involved in producing these everyday products.
Visitors to the exhibition will experience the cows being milked, get involved in debate, witness some of the less-glamorous processes involved in producing milk, and hear stories from dairy farmers throughout the South West of England. Within the parlour itself, Nessie will be live full time with the cows where she will milk, feed, muck out and sleep near them, being the chief caretaker. During calving and lambing season, it is common for farmers to construct temporary beds within the animal pens, in order to watch over them.
The purpose of this ‘live-in’ is to demonstrate the often arduous and challenging processes involved in producing an everyday product like milk: something we rarely think twice about as we scan the supermarket shelves. The idea was initially inspired by The Sustainable Food Trust’s 2013 True Cost Accounting conference, coupled with a moving talk at the Oxford Real Farming Conference about milk being cheaper than bottled water, where Nessie decided milk was the ideal lens through which to talk about the true (and hidden) social, economic and environmental costs behind our food and farming system.
Nessie’s research (November 2014 – April 2016) will be recorded via the Dairy Blog and Gallery. For a detailed introduction to the project, watch The Milking Parlour film. The intention is for The Milking Parlour to be extended for 2 years to become a national tour, of which funding applications are currently underway.
The Milking Parlour is an 18-month Cape Farewell artist residency, based in Bristol. Cape Farewell is an international programme bringing together creatives, scientists and informers to stimulate a cultural narrative to communicate the urgency of our global climate challenge.