Like humans, domesticated animals create and maintain inter and intraspecies bonds through touch. Susurrus is a 8 ft. by 10 ft. pigment print on canvas constituted of over 80 digital images collected over three year’s time. The print, part of a larger long-term interspecies research project, is born of an ongoing photography series that documents licking (allogrooming): the visual residue of inter/intra species bonding (Shusuke, 1993.) Jiggy, Charlotte, Ava, Ruby, and Jeremiah, the cows whose relationships the viewer sees in the “licks” are positioned as co-authors in this piece; the visual residue of their licking, of their relationships, is documented in individual images. These then act as building blocks; the final print is created through processes of digital collage: duplication, mutation, erasure, and replication. By using these processes, the final print
Touch is what author and farmer Steven Budiansky calls a “biological opportunity.” In his book Covenant of the Wild: Why Animals Chose Domestication , he describes allogrooming as an area in which both humans and domesticated animals experience overlapping social structures (67, 1999). This may have encouraged nonhuman animals to accept humans into their social structures, starting processes of domestication. Engaging in intra and interspecies touch is biologically ingrained in us and other domesticated species, carried through genes, and nurtured by environment.
While Susurrus intends to be a larger meditation on the interspecies need to touch and be touched.
Shusuke S., et. all, “The influence of social factors on allogrooming in cows,” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 38, no. 3-4 (1993): , doi:10.1016/0168-1591(93)90022-h.
Budiansky, S. (1999). Covenant of the Wild: Why Animals Chose Domestication. New Haven: Yale University Press
About the Artist
Ruth Burke is an artist and educator who works between the fields of contemporary art and animal studies. She is based in Southeast Michigan and her practice engages a variety of living beings at Firesign Family Farm. Ruth is a “horse person.”
Burke has exhibited artwork throughout the U.S., in cities such as New York, Chicago, San Antonio, Columbus, and Detroit. She has presented at and participated in national and international conferences, residencies, and was part of the inaugural cohort for the Human-Animal Studies Institute held by the Animals & Society Institute. Ruth has received various grants and awards for her work, including a Foundation for Contemporary Art Emergency Grant, and has twice been a finalist for a Fulbright Research award. Her first co-authored publication will publish next year in the peer-reviewed journal Society & Animals. Ruth holds a BFA in Art & Technology from the Ohio State University and an MFA in Interdisciplinary Studio Art from the University of Michigan Stamps School of Art & Design. Ruth is currently an Assistant Teaching Professor in the School of Art at Bowling Green State University.