Automatopoeia: From the Sludge

| Tina Stefanou
Automatopoeia: From The Sludge | Tina Stefanou

Fieldnotes from the 2022 Art and Ecology Residency at the Dookie Robotic Dairy Farm, Agricultural Campus and the Mansfield High School. 

Moving methane, BEEP!

Slobbering boundaries, ZING!

The chugg, the belch of the milky way, as it moves from my teat to your gut.


I am bovine, I am a larger field, a happening. Neither sexed nor mother.


Neither subject, lens, tongue, or mirror.

In the words of Doja Cat, BITCH! I am a Cow.1

Grazing on cattle time: eighteen days on site is not enough time to truly form a body of work that can speak beyond the politics of capture (to be seen seeing). So, what amount of time would be necessary in a robotic dairy farm?

Vocalising, moving, writing, line dancing, listening; conversing with cows, robots, farm workers, scientists, shearers, sheep, pulses, The Quarry, students, retirees, horses and teenagers on the spectrum has generated something more-than and less-than-productive. The residency began when I hummed softly to the cows as they were being art(ificially) inseminated. In that moment, vocality assumed a quiet cinematic quality, capable of co-shaping a projected sonic environment—a multi-sensory glimpse of breath-light, sonorous-tactility, and (e)motion.

An unrestricted sociality presented itself and it was in that moment when something, which exceeds speech, whispered in my ear, sidling.2 A devotional diffractive practice; an approach to moving and being moved with the world, which takes a non-discursive route away from forward-facing representationalism. Sidling, involves crisscrossing through a plethora of (extra)ordinary encounters and entities, singing with the gaps. It refrains from an act of knowing, an approach that places the human at the apex of knowledge, which relegates the environment to an instrument of human-animal use.3 Sidling box-weaves away from a human/artist-centric paradigm—‘a sphere encompassing thought, action, belief, desire, and an imaginary economy—that is toxic.’4

This orientation prompted a challenging inquiry: amidst the mechanised monotony of a robotic dairy farm, where does fugitivity reside? Fugitivity, ‘is a desire for and a spirit of escape and transgression of the proper and the proposed.’5 In the case of the artist, it is a space that demands an attunement to voice, ‘not as individuation, but as something amidst an intense engagement with everything: with all the voices that you’ve ever heard, where you struggle somehow to make a difference, so to speak, within that voice. And that difference isn’t necessarily about you {as an artist}’6

 Here the invitation is to drop the outcome, to listen fugitively and commune with sludge.


Sludge: a group of cow bodies on heat communing in an orgy. Messy hot rubbing. A group-soothing moment, where hooves, fur, and reproductive surfaces take part in a ritual of Bos Taurean stimming. Perhaps this is where the fugitive lives? Amidst the mire, briefly moving away from the architectures of order. The droning, trance-like sounds of milk and its mechanic corporeality resonate through the farm; this place is Automatopoeic. The fieldnotes in Automatopoeia act as a behind the scenes hyperspace, a precursor to a body of actions yet to come, presented in a moving 3D animated landscape.

The animated work, plays with ‘animatic (dis)entanglement’, an approach to animal cinematics that interrogates the historical and contemporary ethnographic methods of capture inherent in film and art making. I invite the human-animal reader to experience these processual interiorities as they are felt to me at the time. With little editing, what I experienced at the robotic dairy farm and the ecology of interactions that unravelled was a call to find another locomotion, a sidling depiction of the performative. To animate the otherwise representative disconnect between the subjugated labour of animals, and a human’s capacity to ‘assert dominion through the act of assigning meaning.’7

As Jacob Lingren writes, ‘{i}n this prevailing context, animal life is frequently diminished to mere economic units, their worth gauged by their capacity to be produced and consumed.’8 Animal life is leveraged through agricultural mechanisms, which fuels the momentum behind early time-motion technologies, trapping them within humanist hierarchies that domesticate the movement and function of bodies.9 These factors highlight an embedded habitus that centres human mastery in conventional artistic identities and environments. I find myself moving further into a para-ethnographical practice often stationed in regional and rural places, at times funded by art, government, and academic institutions. The implicit danger of an imperial narrative lies in the belief that one must placate an external figure, whether a bureaucratic or artistic institution, that sits outside of and detached from corporeal intricacies:10

lactic commoning

microbial co-composing

hormonal drifts

fatty assemblages

neural throbbing

sperm work

faecal aroma(n)tics

nervous system mastications

Motion. Capture. Cash. Cow.


Over the course of ten years, deeply engaged in working and living with animals—particularly horse-kind, the original life-action-view (zoopraxiscopic) actors—I have continued to wrestle with these questions. I loop back to the ways we frame, the spaces we bring to light, the tools we use, the time we tend, the where—the places we land and the how and why we feature the voices we employ are fundamentally important. It is in this realm that an act of refusal emerges, countering the instrumentalisation of cow-labour for artwork. Sidling explores the potential of written, visual, and aural refusal as forms of sensate more-than-human sovereignty. What Dylan Robison outlines in Hungry Listening as actions of structural refusal to 'convey knowledge and experience otherwise to the normative strictures.'11 A place to instigate reflection on the production and circulation of content.

We all inhabit and co-create worlds saturated with unease, progressively mechanised, and estranged in this twenty-first-century technoscape. The aristocratic menagerie highlighted animals and their intriguing potential to signify status, a display that underscores a manifestation of imperialism and elitism stemming from the colonial cabinets of curiosity. This legacy lingers within the confines of the white cube. I can hear Bayo Akómoláfé’s assertion, ‘{e}thics is what comes to matter and what comes to be excluded in the mattering of what comes to matter.’12

It is in these tricky matters that animalness comes into relation differently, shape-shifting ethico-aesthetic landscapes, demanding ‘ontological mutiny.’13 The dynamics of pushing and pulling, the friction and the kinetic movements within the sludge, a forbidden love, the fugitive, all contribute to a sense of belonging that is brought to life through a commonist-interspecies-working-class-diaspora. This process involves a re-evaluation of how labour, bodies, and time can give rise to post-anthropocentric economies. Akómoláfé continues, ‘We are arousals. We are subjects of unspeakable arousals.’14 Animalness asks us to give up something. It disrupts the narrative of the cows at the Dookie farm as visual, knowledge, or entertainment production sites to dis-art, an inverted tonality, a place of uneasy making-wit(h)ness, dancing the war of proximity.



1. Doja Cat, “Mooo!”, YouTube, August 11, 2018, music video, 4:42,

2. Akómoláfé, Báyò, “on Ontological Mutiny,” July 3, 2023, in For the Wild interview, with Ayana Young, podcast, MP3 audio, 01:01:50,

3. ibid

4. ibid

5. David S. Wallace, “Fred Moten’s Radical Critique of the Present” The New Yorker, published April 30, 2018,

6. ibid

7. Jacob Lingren, “Toward a Non-human Lens,” Editorial (blog), 1/08/2023,

8. ibid

9. Lingren, “Toward a Non-human Lens,”

10. Akómoláfé, “on Ontological Mutiny”

11. In Dylan Robison's book "Hungry Listening," the author explores various forms of Indigenous knowledge sovereignty through acts of refusal, spanning aesthetics, modalities, and audiences, aimed at obstructing the extraction and instrumentalisation of Indigenous knowledge. This perspective aligns with repositioning animality within decolonial thought. Dylan Robison, Hungry Listening: Resonant Theory for Indigenous Sound Studies, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota press, 2020), 24.

12. Akómoláfé, “on Ontological Mutiny”

13. ibid

14. ibid

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