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An exhibition exploring selective breeding and genetics in contemporary cattle farming
February 5, 2019 - October 27, 2019


February 5, 2019
October 27, 2019
Normal opening times
Event Category:


The Museum of English Rural Life
The Museum of English Rural Life, Redlands Road
Reading, Berkshire RG1 5EX United Kingdom
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Photograph of large bull with a colourful sculpture on its back from Sire an exhibition by Maria McKinney

Sire. by Maria McKinney is an innovative exploration of the themes of selective breeding and genetics in contemporary cattle farming, directly informed by The MERL’s collections of livestock portraiture and straw craft.

The exhibition consists of nine largescale photographic portraits, taken at an Irish stud farm, that depict bulls wearing eccentric, multi-coloured sculptures mounted on their backs. In their kaleidoscopic mix of shapes and sizes, the sculptures reference some of the different qualities farmers have looked to breed into modern cattle such as higher milk yields, more muscle, increased resilience to extreme climates, and lack of horns.

McKinney visited The MERL whilst researching for Sire. in 2015. Alongside collaborations with contemporary farmers and scientists, The MERL’s collections of livestock portraiture and strawcraft informed the finished series. Bringing together the photographs and sculptures for Sire in an immersive installation in The MERL’s open access stores, this exhibition offers a unique opportunity to experience McKinney’s work in direct conversation with collections that inspired it.

The artist: Maria McKinney

Maria McKinney is an artist based in Dublin, Ireland. Her practice is led by an inquiry into the underlying complexities of the world around us, and often involves bringing together contemporary materials and traditional craft methods. She was awarded a Wellcome Trust Arts Award in 2015 to produce Sire., which featured alongside three other art-science collaborations in the exhibition “Somewhere in Between” at the Wellcome Collection in 2018.

Online exhibition

See our online exhibition to find out more about Sire.