Milking parlours are the place of an everyday cleanliness that is found nowhere else. It is difficult type of cleanliness to describe: not tidy in a domestic way, nor sterile, like that of the operating theatre or science lab, but more a work-a-day scrubbing that ensures the milk passes from udder to tank as pure as we imagine it. Apart from the lambing or calving pen, the parlour is one of the most intimate spaces on the farm based, as it is, around that most intimate of shared, white-clean liquids, milk.
To make this video in the abandoned milking parlour at Ferris Court I first had to pressure-hose away four years of dust, bird shit and general muck, just as the farmer used to spray away water-soaked feces off the floor. This turned out to be possibly the best introduction to the space that I could have had: as the water jet ricocheted off another protruding piece of ironwork, splashed back onto me from some corner, or as I pushed the accumulating water on the floor towards the drain, brushing with the jet, I gained a strong, sculptural impression of the space around me – what it permitted, where it resisted, and about its flow, the flow of that danced exchange between man and cow.
The parlour is an expression of our relationship to one particular part of the animal world.
Today this abandoned parlour feels dated, hovering somewhere between high-tech and Heath Robinson. It’s a place that tells of changes in a completely un-nostalgic way. Many small- and medium-sized dairies have disappeared in the last few years as economic and disease pressures have taken their toil, distancing us ever more from the animal. Some I have visited have been scrubbed away to make way for a new activity; on one farm only the rubble-filled pit a reminder of what when before. Others have been kept and reused, including one I came across that had become the studio for an artist.
The parlour is an expression of our relationship to one particular part of the animal world. To listen to John, the farmer, talking about the idiosyncrasy of the cows he used to milk here is to see the individuality of that relationship, however streamlined the architectural design. It was of necessity intimate, as the name ‘parlour’ suggests, based one many different forms of cleanliness, both real and imagined, leading to that ultimate form of cleaning, forgetfulness.
Part of The Learned Pig’s Clean Unclean editorial season, March-May 2015.