The story of mastitis, a bacterial infection, and how it infects a cow’s teats is told literally and through personification in artist Marianna Simnett’s video THE UDDER, which is now streaming on the online cinema platform Vdrome. The 15-minute video is shot on a dairy farm, and cast with people who live and work there.
With little inflection, a young girl from the farm sings in a minor key: “mastitis, mastitis, my mammary gland is in pain/Chastity, chastity, give me the strength to abstain/Mastitis, mastitis I’m swollen so sore and inflamed/Chastity is my refrain.” In a matter of fact, deadpan tone, consistent with the rest of the video, the girl’s mother explains that a cow with mastitis has slowed milk production. Mastitis easily spreads between cows. Dairy farms need to treat mastitis quickly, and contain the infection.
The modes of treating and containing mastitis are told through the actions of the young girl, who at times seems to personify the udder. She is advised to keep chaste and stay inside—quarantined like the infected cow. The udder is intimately presented. Marianna Simnett never shoots the face of the cow, just their udders: the teat being milked by hand, by a machine, massaged, cut open.
The outside world looks dangerous. When the girl ventures out, she is dressed to tempt aggressors, or mastitis—red lipstick, long hair blowing. Rather, the girl should keep her hair short. Long hair is “too likely to trap dirt and increase the risk of pathogens.” That’s not only true for girls. “Hair on the udder increases the risk of environmental mastitis, it should always be clipped,” the mother’s voice chimes in.
Marianna Simnett wrote and directed THE UDDER in 2014. It is available to stream for free on Vdrome through June 14. The video stars Isabel Maclaren, Emma Maclaren-Fraser, Simon Flitney, and Marcel and Jerome Somerlinck.