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16 mm, 76 min. English, Dutch.

Aurochs is the name given to the wild ancestor of modern cattle. The aurochs has the distinction of being the first documented case of extinction. The last known wild aurochs died in the Jaktorów Forest in Poland in 1627. Hunting and the introduction of domesticated cattle led to their decline and disappearance. Their value, however, derived not just from them being a source of sustenance. Traits that were attributed to the animal, such as speed, strength, and courage, imbued it with great symbolic power. Some of their body parts were ascribed with supernatural powers. The skin of the forehead and a cross-shaped bone inside the heart were prized for their magical properties. Those who carried them became possessors of the animal’s traits.
In the 20th century efforts to bring back the Aurochs from extinction began to materialize.

Anja Dornieden, born in 1984 in the GDR, and Juan David González Monroy, born in 1983 in Colombia, are filmmakers based in Berlin. Since 2010 they have been working together under the moniker OJOBOCA. Together they practice Horrorism, a simulated method of inner and outer transformation. They have presented their films and performances in a wide variety of venues and festivals worldwide. Their film Heliopolis Heliopolis was included in Forum Expanded 2017. Both Dornieden and González Monroy are members of the artist-run film lab LaborBerlin.

Director’s Note

The aurochs was a wild species of cattle and the ancestor of modern cattle. It was once an inhabitant of large parts of Asia, North Africa, and Europe and was found almost everywhere in the forests and meadows of Germany. The aurochs disappeared in 1627. That year the last known aurochs died in the Jaktorów Forest in Poland.

Starting in the 1920s, Lutz and Heinz Heck, German zoologists and brothers, decided to undertake a project to bring back the aurochs from extinction by a process called back-breeding. Lutz and Heinz as directors, respectively, of the Berlin and Munich zoos, crossed several modern breeds of cattle hoping to end up with a creature that resembled the original aurochs. The Heck brothers’ fantastic goal corresponded with the ideology of racial purification extolled at the time by Nazism. The Heck brothers sought to bring back the biological unity of the aurochs, which they believed to have degenerated through domestication. The aurochs were considered stronger, more pure and beautiful than domesticated cattle and therefore more in correspondence with the German ideal of unspoiled, heroic nature. The aurochs, once the largest land mammal in Europe, was seen as a symbol of German superiority and might.

Eventually, the back-breeding project was thwarted by the war. The bombings of Berlin killed most of the animals in the Berlin Zoo. However, the Hecks’ modern aurochs did not completely disappear. At the Munich Zoo, some of Heinz Heck’s cattle managed to survive the war and the Heck cattle that can be presently found in Germany are their descendants.

Nonetheless, as a scientific endeavor, the Heck brothers’ project is regarded as a failure. Physically, the Heck cattle of today are considered no different than any other modern cattle. As a symbol, however, the aurochs still survives. Starting in the ‘90s, new back-breeding projects emerged in Europe with the hope of creating a true contemporary aurochs. In Germany in 1996, the conservation group Arbeitsgemeinschaft Biologischer Umweltschutz started to crossbreed Heck cattle with primitive cattle from Southern Europe with the goal of creating a larger, more “long-legged” and “elegant” breed than contemporary Heck cattle. In the Netherlands in 2009, the Tauros Foundation began a project that uses genetic reconstruction to trace the ancient DNA of the aurochs in diverse breeds of modern cattle to create a breed robust enough to cope in the wilderness. These attempts exist within larger “rewilding” conservation projects in Europe. Their goal is to recover Europe’s primitive wildlife so as to replicate the continent’s primordial ecosystem. These projects seek to transform areas of the European landscape back into wilderness, allowing for the original flora and fauna to exist with minimal intervention from humans.

Heck cattle are the unwilling embodiment of what was a paradoxical point of view. This perspective valued the natural world as something whole, pure, and unspoiled and yet, it made every effort to shape it to fit human needs and desires. In the present, in order to preserve it, the shaping of nature continues in different forms. Our film looks at some of the physical traces of the historical development of this pursuit.

Production Anja Dornieden, Juan David González Monroy. Production company OJOBOCA GbR (Berlin, Germany). Written and directed by Anja Dornieden, Juan David González Monroy. Cinematography Anja Dornieden, Juan David González Monroy. Montage Anja Dornieden, Juan David González Monroy. Music Anja Dornieden, Juan David González Monroy. Sound design Christian Obermaier.


2011: Awe Shocks (3 min.). 2012: Oro Parece (6 min.), The Handeye (Bone Ghosts) (7 min.), Eigenheim (16 min.). 2013: A flea’s skin would be too big for you (47 min.), Come and Dance with Me (4 min.). 2014: Gente Perra (25 min.), Wolkenschatten (17 min.). 2015: The Masked Monkeys (30 min.). 2016: Heliopolis Heliopolis (26 min., Forum Expanded 2017). 2018: Comfort Stations (26 min.), The Skin is Good (12 min.). 2020: Her Name was Europa (76 min.).

Photo: © OJOBOCA GbR

Funded by:

  • Logo Minister of State for Culture and the Media
  • Logo des Programms NeuStart Kultur