Thomas Thwaites, a British freelance graphic designer, was feeling aimless and anxious, he said, when he decided to strap on a pair of prosthetic wooden limbs and a goat stomach for a six-day journey in the Swiss Alps in 2014. His mission: to become a goat, no matter the cost.
Thwaites, 35, wrote a book about the experience, titled, GoatMan: How I Took a Holiday from Being Human, released May 2016. Thwaites reflected on his experience of becoming a goat, his transformation as an art project, and the power of eating without your hands.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
You've done a bunch of interviews. What hasn't the media asked you?
I want people to see the goal of the project as a sort of design and art project as opposed to the project's goal to become a goat, if you see what I mean. I consider myself a designer—a term that's expanded in the past decade—and it's like, I'd like to be asked, "How does it relate to your other design practice?"
And I suppose, it's less interesting from a general person reading an article view, but I guess it's about finding ways to reconcile areas of human existence, somehow, in terms of the arts and sciences, and the idea that rational and spiritual can be brought together. You don't have to be one or the other.
The overarching goal of my entire body of work—of which this is one part—is essentially that.
So—what you're saying is that most coverage has focused of the absurdity of becoming a goat, when in reality, it's part of a larger artistic mission?
Yeah, I guess it's like, at the beginning of the project, you're a bit unsure of how absurd it is. I'd say if I wanted to produce some amazing springy legs that could let me gallop across the mountainside, that wouldn't be absurd, that'd be simply amazing. So I think I went into it not really knowing whether it'd be really cool or be absurd, and I guess as you tread the course of the project, I realized it's much more impossible than I previously thought.
I don't see what's absurd to wanting to experience the world from a different animal's point of view. Maybe it's absurd to try—maybe everyone knows it's impossible, except for me. I don't think I would've found that if I wouldn't have tried.
Did you have doubts of the project's success at the start?
I think I most doubted the ability to switch off bits of my brain to get closer to the perspective of being a goat. It was the internal, mental thing, because once you think of something, you can't stop thinking of that thing. Trying to make it so I wouldn't automatically read a word I knew would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, without potentially suffering brain damage.
Do you think ever hit that goat flow state?
Yeah, I think I can say that. It's like, all of the sudden, half-an-hour's passed. That sort of thing. I think I can say that for the briefest of moments, I was there. But is that human flow state? It's hard to remember exactly what you're thinking about; when you're walking through the woods, you're just sort of walking.
That's another tricky thing about the project—reporting on not thinking about anything is quite difficult.
Was it meditative? Like taking drugs? Is there anything comparable?
I think maybe just walking back from school when I was little, like on a familiar route. Like walking any familiar route, and suddenly you're nearly there and you can't remember what you were thinking about.
I guess it is kind of meditative. All throughout the project, I'd run into things that reminded me of mindfulness and meditation. About bringing your mind back to the present, and feeling physically present. I have done some meditation, but I find it slightly difficult to meditate on cue. I'd say it was a similar sort of thing.
It's that animal characteristic—not being in your own story—reminded me of aspects of meditation. Which is vaguely interesting, because it plays into this suspicion that the human consciousness turns you mad. It's a fact of being human that can be problematic, and if you're too intellectual, you can overthink things and get depressed.
I'll add that to my personal philosophy, I guess.
Did you find there being benefits even in the long-term?
I had a phase of being really pissed off and cross and did think, "Thomas, you did this project and should remember what it was like." I'd love to be able to say I snapped out of my own self, but unfortunately, I think it's part of the problem. When you're wrapped up in yourself, it's hard to force yourself to become unwrapped by talking yourself around it.
Maybe slightly, but perhaps unconsciously.
Would you recommend it to others?
I think, yeah. I don't think you necessarily need to go into the alps and be in a herd of goats, but being on the same eye level as an animal can be quite good. And I found being on all fours and feeding myself without using my hands and being on the same level as a bunch of creatures was at least very interesting, and maybe I even got used to it.
You just have to do it once a year, or maybe even once—to just try feeding yourself with just your hands. It's quite an interesting, weird experience.
Do you miss the goats?
I think I sort of do.
Michael Rosen is a reporter for Fusion based out of Oakland.