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A film installation by Deirdre O'Mahony
October 27, 2017 - December 21, 2017


October 27, 2017
December 21, 2017
Usual 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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A poster showing the details of the exhibition Speculative Optimism, with an archive corridor in the background.

Deirdre O’Mahony’s residency at the MERL began with the proposition, is carbon-neutral beef possible? Research at the University of Reading is currently testing the effect of different kinds of forage such as Sainfoin, on animal and soil health and on levels of methane produced by livestock. Deirdre spent the residency investigating historical references to forages like Sainfoin in the MERL archives and reviewed some of the extensive collection of historical documentary films produced to teach increased efficiency in agriculture.

Speculative Optimism is the title given to the poetic documentary produced from this research. Shot in the archives, at the University of Reading’s Hall Farm and at Cotswold Seed’s Honeydale Farm and factory, the film makes use of the museum’s audio-visual archive and illustrations from the Ladybird book collection. It points to the history of changing agricultural policies that now require both efficient production methods and environmentally sustainability while maintaining the visual premium and heritage value of landscapes. Some might argue this is an impossible task. Refusing a singular position or narrative, the film relies on unconscious visual associations inspired by the imagery to provide unexpected insights into the complexities of global food production today.

The work will be installed in the Digging Deeper: open store gallery space on 27th October 2017 and runs until Thursday 21st December.

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