Matthew Cowan

Make a peace with the muddy legged cows (2018)

4 min 38 secSingle channel / Digital Video / Colour / Sound

“Make a peace with the muddy-legged cows” is a folk song performed by members of the Men's Choir of Mynämäki, Finland, in their village hall. The traditional song is an appeal to Mother Mary and the wild beasts to ensure the safety of farm animals as they are released into the outdoors in the springtime.

Make a peace with the muddy-legged cows was first presented during para field notes, an exhibition of Matthew Cowan's work held at the Photographic Gallery Hippolyte in Helsinki, Finland, in 2018. Looking into folklore and local history while staying at the Saari residence in Mynämäki, Cowan discovered what seemed to be images of devils on the walls of a church in Kalanti, Southwest Finland, painted by Petrus Henriksson in the late 15th century. The creatures depicted in these scene turned out to be "para"—a supernatural being who, although not evil, belonged to a pan-European tradition of milk-stealers. These mythological beings preceded the arrival of Christianity in Finland.

The exhibition dealt with aspects of Finnish folklore of the rural springtime—a time when animals are moved out from winter barns and male snakes emerge from their subterranean hibernation. Cowan's video works contain the sounds of folk songs and traditional birch bark horns, played alongside the ringing of the Easter church bells at Kalanti. At its core, belief in this kind of folk knowledge belies a deeply human need to subvert the unknown forces that guide fate. 

The exhibition was made with the grateful collaboration of the Men's Choir of Mynämäki; Minna Hokka & the Tavastila Local Museum in the village of Mietoinen, Photographic Gallery Hippolyte and the support of the Saari Residence and the Kone Foundation.

Other works by Matthew Cowan

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