This post is to draw attention to the work of Deirdre O’Mahony, an artist, academic and occasional writer, who I recently finally met face-to-face in Galway. She has been nominated by EVA International Ireland’s Biennial of Contemporary Art, to take SPUD http://www.deirdre-omahony.ie/public-art-projects/spud.html to attend the Anna Lindh Foundation (ALF) Network Activity “ART as an instrument and expression of social change’ in Taroudant, Morocco between the 9th –13th April 2014. SPUD is just one of her projects, growing out of what I see as perhaps her core recent activity, the establishment of X-PO (see http://www.x-po.ie).
X-PO is located in Kilnaboy, a scattered parish of a few hundred households, a national school and a church. Deirdre re-opened the former post office there as X-PO – a public meeting point intended to: “give physical and metaphorical space for reflection and consideration about the future of rural life in a post-agricultural landscape. Such a ‘thinking space’ can also serve as a counterpoint to public perception and media representation of rural communities in the west of Ireland as either slow and lacking the intensity of urban life, or as an unspoiled haven and recreation site”.
SPUD is Deirdre’s way of helping to provide space to both investigate and aesthetically reflect on issues such as sustainability, food security, changing landscapes and rural/urban relationships. It is a transdisciplinary and, to me more significantly, multi-constituency collaborative project that works between artists and farmers, agencies and institutions in curating and making new art work and mediating between different rural and urban publics. As such it’s engaged in reframing and making visible the relevance of rural tacit cultivation knowledge to urban publics – vital because there’s a real chance that it will get lost in the new post-productivist landscapes emerging in regions like western Ireland.
SPUD has set out to reflect on the current paradigmatic shift whereby the rural is transformed – largely by those not grounded in local taskscapes – from being a site of food production to one of cultural production. As SPUD is demonstrating, this is best countered by re-thinking the relationship between politics, ecology, tourism and activism through an extended, durational, process of engagement.
To further this Deirdre O’Mahony has linked up with Chicago-based artist Frances Whitehead, who shares her interest in the role artists’ knowledge can play in devising pragmatic, approaches to working towards sustainable futures. Frances Whitehead has worked for a number of years with CIP, the International Potato Center a research-for-development organization based in Lima, Peru. She and Deirdre have begun to pool research, sharing ideas on potato cultivation and its contemporary relevance to food security, particularly in cities. SPUD has thus become a frame within which to examine artists’ ability to make visible the relevance of rural (village) culture to urban publics today.