Yes, artist Thomas Thwaites decided, I’ll be a goat

Ten years ago, when he was still studying design at art school in London, Thomas Thwaites bought a toaster for £3.94. What would such an everyday and seemingly simple thing itself be like, he wondered? But without buying one of the 157 off-the-shelf components. He smelted iron ore, extracted copper from an old mine, made plastic from potato starch, and finally built something like a cheese fondue accident.

The toaster cost him £1,200 and you can’t toast with it, just heat it up. But Roastery Project It gave him a great deal of satisfaction, insights into industrial development and about hidden costs in the economy. Plus a book and assignments at the intersection of art, technology, science, design, and DIY.

Artist Thomas Thwaites with his car woven from reeds. Photo by Oliver Midendorp

Thwaites (1980) was at Artis this month, with seven other artists, each implementing his own project. Invited by Machine Wilderness, an “artistic research program” on what machines would do “if they could enter the world of plants and animals.”

Or vice versa, you can consider the Thwaites Project. feign harmless car, an innocent and harmless vehicle for its occupants, fellow road users and the environment. Base material: willow. Thick for structure, oval body of gracefully curved thinner fingers. “Wonderful stuff,” he says. “You just can’t believe it’s that strong, especially braided.”

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He owes the idea to his daughter who started screaming and kicking when he wanted to strap her to the car seat. “I thought: Maybe you have a point.” And then: No seat belts, what does that mean? Something about permanent airbags. He believes that wheels also become balloons. Large canvas balloons spin very slowly. This way I am looking for a way around the problem.”

It sounds methodical: set a task for yourself, break it down into sub-problems, and then find creative solutions. But how did you come up with the idea of ​​building a toaster toaster from scratch? Or a nice car? Or, his most exciting project yet: becoming a goat yourself?

running away

It feels like a childhood fantasy: I wish I was a bird/dolphin/lion. For Thwaites, it was dangerous. We know what the big problems are, and there is no solution in sight. I didn’t want to worry for a while. Animals do not worry. It was flying behaviour, but I wanted it to be more than a dream about running away. Then I began a search process that I always enjoy so much: How can I really become a goat? “

Thwaites refused to accept the experts “no.” You’ll break your collarbones like a four-legged friend! All the grass? You don’t have four stomachs to digest cellulose!

He finally beat these numbers, with great physical inconvenience through his “exoskeleton”, prosthetics and an external “rumen” into which the grass spits and which produces nutrients by chemical deflection. However, in the end, it is not about becoming the physical aspect of the animal, but about the process between the ears. As a shaman tells him: Do you really want to become an animal or wear an animal suit? She refers it to research conducted by Danish anthropologist Ran Willerslev among local Siberian fishermen. In order to successfully hunt, they themselves become the animal. Not “as it were”, but literally someone who has a stag that he can only kill in this way.

Thomas Thwaites Works on harmless carA car made of willow trees.
Oliver Midendorp’s photo
Roastery Project
Photo by Daniel Alexander
Willow Thwaites Car and Draft Toaster.
Photo by Oliver Midendorp/Daniel Alexander

Thwaites: “How can they really believe that? The answer is something like: Their definition of what you are as a person varies with different connections to your environment. This is different from our internally defined Cartesian concept of ‘I think, therefore I am.’”

Can you consider turning off the language?

“I actually went to a neurologist to see if he could turn off the parts of my brain that make me human. The answer: No, because that’s what makes you. Then I decided to radically change my environment.”


“I went to a goat farmer in the Alps and said I was ‘goats interested’ and wanted to walk, eat and sleep with his goats. Amazingly, he let me stay for a few days. After the first night in the stable I walked with him and his goats on prosthetics down the steep slope to a pasture area. Other. Very painful. I tried to forget how much I wanted a cup of coffee and enjoy the smell of the other goats. It didn’t really work. However, I noticed that after a while the goats got away less and that I was part of the herd, grazing with them.”

And then it errs. Since walking uphill with prosthetics hurts him less than walking on slopes, he suddenly seems to be at the highest point of the meadow, higher than all the other goats. They stopped grazing. writes in Goat man, how did I take time off from being human† “The worst goats, the savage of the herd” had taken the dominant position. Some goats begin to rattle their horns.

And then?

“We actually look down on most four-legged friends, but if you stand four feet tall, the cards will be shuffled more fairly. When the goats quarrel among themselves, they do it ritually, not to hurt. I should have guessed the correct angle for the headshot. I could have lost my eye. One goat I had kind of saved me. I followed her and pulled that wick.”

Becoming an animal is a trend. Charles Foster, a British lawyer and veterinarian, tried to live like badgers, otters, foxes, deer, and speeders. He slept under hedges, in roadsides and forests to discover what it meant not to go through life “visually” like a human, but to use all of the senses. Eat from litter boxes, eat worms and kill the way† He said, “You get used to it.” Norwegian Refugee Council† He also allowed himself to be hunted by bloodhounds to feel what it was like to be a prey animal. You don’t get used to it.

homemade goat legs
Tim Bowditch’s photo
Tim Bowditch’s photo

Their projects won Foster and Thwaites’ joint Ig Nobel Prize in 2016, a science prize for trivial research that’s still thought-provoking. Then there is Geoffroy Delorme who lived for seven years with a roe deer in the Normandy forest (Blame Chevroiltranslated in 2021 as deer man† A book by David Abram. become an animal (2010), a philosophical exercise based on the fact that we do not see the world “as it is” because our brains quickly replace everything our eyes see with abstract “concepts.”

“It is undoubtedly about our quest for a new relationship with nature,” Thwaites says. What he and Foster have in common is their attempt to bridge the gap between humans and animals. “And we both realize how much comfort you have to give up when trying to live as a non-human.”

But in addition to physical discomfort, Thwaites also noted “spiritual discomfort,” he said. I am not religious, but I do believe that I am part of something greater: the progress of human civilization, and the idea that everything will eventually get better through the advancement of technology. That’s the gist of it anyway Star Trek, which I’ve looked at a lot in the past. But using technology to become a goat, live a mediocre life without progress or purpose and be happy with it – this rejects this ideal. So, why do I really believe in it?

“My visit to shamans and spirituality — it has a New Age aspect to it, but it is also about what it means to be human. And that aligns with my idea of ​​science. My project was also about that: bringing the two together.”

Do you understand better what it means to be human when you become an animal?

“It begins with a vision, a vision: Yes, I’m going to make a toaster! Yes, I’ll be a goat! That vision settles down as I try to get close to it. But there comes a point where you realize it’s impossible. And it ends up checking you out what was so attractive in that vision to begin with. You have to find The way you fail is interesting and this is another way to achieve something else.”

Read also: You have drawn human and animal alike

Beautiful failure?

“There is an aesthetic side to it, but I don’t know if it is really beauty. I hope there is meaning somewhere.”

He opens his laptop and displays a model of his car made of plants, calculated by TU Delft. Perfect tension lines perfectly match the shapes you want curved willow toes to take anyway. I like it: how ancient weaving techniques and computer algorithms match. It really makes sense: when willows are bent in the wind, they also grow in a way that heightens the tension. And you feel it again when you’re braiding.”

And then you almost became that car yourself.

“Your mind becomes the car, yes.”

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