Unleash Your Herd’s Potential – An exhibition by Dániel Szalai
22 • 03 • 06Punkt
The starting point of the project, Unleash Your Herd’s Potential was the news about developing a face recognition program for cattle. Considering precision livestock farming, Szalai’s work takes cattle as an animal ’broken in’ by the algorithm and reflects on surveillance, exploitation and our relationship to nature.
Utilizing computer vision, artificial intelligence and robotics, today’s automated dairy farm functions as a new kind of panopticon in which animals are subject to continuous digital monitoring. While free to move autonomously within the facilities, they spend their entire life in a closed system and actively participate in their exploitation in return for rewards. The extensive technology infrastructure enables quantifying all aspects of the cows’ life; hence, it allows treating each individual of the herd as a mere dataset in line with the idea of 360-degree customer view. Therefore, precision dairy farming can be regarded as an example of surveillance capitalism applied to animals, and a new means of consolidating the distance between human and non-human entities through virtualization and gamification.
Unleash Your Herd’s Potential addresses these issues by rendering cows and their environment using photogrammetry, a photography-based 3D-scanning technique originally developed for cartography and surveying. Employing this method enables the representation of the subject as a cloud of information - the creation of an exploded view - while lending the images a painterly appearance. This results in a work characterized by a 21st-century bucolic imagery in which the datafied existence of animals belongs to an increasingly technological landscape perceived through digital means.
Besides, the work comprises a collection of salt licks, providing a counterpoint to the images by bringing in materiality and the agency of the cows. Manufactured as cubiform blocks, and given to the cows to gain essential nutritions, these mineral licks were shaped into anomalous, organic forms by the animals. Thus, these artefacts can be regarded as symbols of the rebellion against our endeavour to turn living beings into parameterized commodities.
Daniel Szalai is the recipient of the artistic research scholarship of the Blue Planet Foundation, generously supporting the realisation of this exhibition. Further support by the Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design. Unleash Your Herd’s Potential was initially developed with the support of the Anni and Heinrich Sussmann Foundation and in the scope of the Pécsi József Photography Grant 2020 of the Ministry of Human Resources of Hungary. Trapéz Galéria is supported by the National Cultural Fund.