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Mayo County Council and The National Museum of Ireland welcome installation of ‘Straw Sister’ artwork

Date: 12-02-2021

Mayo County Council and The National Museum of Ireland (NMI)  have welcomed the installation of a thought-provoking new sculptural artwork by Maria McKinney at the NMI - Country Life in Turlough Park, Castlebar

The work is called ‘Straw Sister’ and is crafted from interwoven synthetic AI (artificial insemination) straws, commonly used in modern agricultural processes.

The artist drew inspiration for ‘Straw Sister’ from vernacular straw crafts in the National Folklife Collection, and a consideration of ancient fertility customs alongside contemporary agricultural practices. 

‘Straw Sister’ was commissioned for On Sight – an annual arts project funded by the National Museum of Ireland - Country Life and Mayo County Council’s Arts Service, in partnership with the Arts Council and support from Mayo Artsquad.

‘Straw Sister’ aims to connect traditional objects, customs and crafts with contemporary realities. When AI was first developed in the first half of the 20th century, a straw of oat was used as the receptacle for the bull specimen. Nowadays, these synthetic straws are made in highly hygienic environments and stored in liquid nitrogen but are still a symbolic carrier - a vessel of contemporary values and meaning.

‘Straw Sister’ builds on McKinney’s previous work for the highly acclaimed ‘Sire’ project which looked at the use of genomics in modern cattle breeding, and included artworks made from AI straws.

Speaking about ‘Straw Sister’, Ms McKinney said: 

“I am delighted to see this work installed in the galleries of the National Museum of Ireland - Country Life. The collections held there have provided great inspiration for my practice. ‘Straw Sister’ aims to reconnect the present-day farming practice of Artificial Insemination (AI) with rural artefacts whose function is thought to have stemmed from fertility customs and I am excited to share this with the public. A combination of natural wheat and synthetic AI straws have been intricately hand woven to create the sculpture. My aim with this work is to make visible a normally hidden, though widespread contemporary fertility ritual.”

Welcoming ‘Straw Sister’, Peter Duggan Chief Executive (Interim) with Mayo County Council, said:

“Mayo County Council are delighted to have been involved with On Sight 2020, and to have supported artist Maria McKinney to create ‘Straw Sister’, a vibrant installation and video in response to the collection in the National Museum of Ireland - Country Life.”

Also welcoming ‘Straw Sister’, Liam Doherty, coordinator of the On Sight project for the NMI, said: 

“Maria McKinney’s installation offers a fresh perspective on the Irish Folklife Collection at the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life. We endeavour to provide exhibitions that will engage the visitor and Maria’s work, with its underpinning of creativity, science and tradition fits in ideally with this goal.”

‘Straw Sister’ is now installed at the exhibition galleries in the NMI – Country Life but due to current COVID-19 public health guidance, access to the public is not possible at present. The Museum looks forward in time to welcoming visitors to view Maria McKinney’s installation in person. Until then, the artwork can be viewed through an accompanying film at:

Pictured: Orlagh Heverin, Mayo Arts Service, artist Maria Mc Kinney, Liam Doherty, National Museum of Ireland – Country Life.


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