On Sight is a partnership project by the National Museum of Ireland, Mayo County Council, Mayo Artsquad and independent artists.
It is an annual installation of artwork/s in the historic grounds of Turlough Park - the former ancestral home of the Fitzgerald family and now the site of the NMI - Country Life and the National Folklife Collection.
McKinney’s innovative and thought-provoking proposal for On Sight 2020 is to create a sculptural work exploring the tradition of the strawboys and Bacach in Ireland and the agricultural process of artificial insemination (AI ) in cattle breeding.
Inspired by vernacular straw crafts displayed in the National Folklife Collection and an interest in contemporary country life, McKinney will create the new artwork from a combination of woven natural straws and the brightly coloured synthetic straws used in the AI process.
The work builds on McKinney’s highly acclaimed Sire project, which looked at the use of genomics in modern cattle breeding, and included artworks made from straws used in the AI process. This project has been exhibited widely, including at the RHA in Dublin, the Wellcome Collection, London, and the Gregg Museum North Carolina, USA.
"I am interested in reconnecting historical ‘artefacts’ with present day realities," outlined McKinney in her successful On Sight 2020 proposal.
"The ‘AI man’ is a commonplace abbreviation used in the agricultural community. It refers to artificial insemination, a widespread method used by farmers who for varying reasons choose to do so (access to wider genetic pool, safety, etc. )
"An essential component in artificial insemination is the AI straw - the storage receptacle for the bull specimen. Produced in highly hygienic environments, these straws come in a variety of bright pop colours to help distinguish between different bull’s specimen while being stored in liquid nitrogen.
"As the straw is party to livestock animals’ propagation, it is imbued with a different significance from its natural predecessor. It is a symbolic carrier, a vessel of contemporary values and meaning.”
"It is interesting to note that when artificial insemination was being developed in the first half of the 20th Century, a straw of oat was the first insemination straw in 1940."
Welcoming the announcement of McKinney as the On Sight 2020 artist, Dr Audrey Whitty, Head of Collections and Learning at the National Museum of Ireland, said: "The NMI is delighted to partner with Mayo County Council once again for On Sight 2020, which is a really valuable arts programme both in terms of the opportunity it provides for artists to develop these site specific artworks, and because On Sight encourages Museum visitors to further explore the themes of the Collection through art.
"The artist’s proposal draws interesting parallels between traditional straw crafts on display in the Museum and modern agricultural processes and materials, so I very much look forward to seeing this artwork in place and the new dialogue it will create as our visitors engage with the Collections."
Also welcoming the announcement, Peter Duggan, Chief Executive (Interim ) with Mayo County Council, said: "We are delighted to welcome Maria McKinney to the National Museum of Ireland - Country Life for On Sight 2020.
"Her calibre of work has been internationally recognised, and we are excited to see her site-specific artwork, which collaborates with scientists and farmers to explore ideas surrounding agriculture, come to life on the very beautiful grounds at the Museum at Turlough."
The new artwork will be unveiled at the NMI - Country Life this autumn. Maria McKinney is an artist from Donegal. She is currently the recipient of a Per Cent for Art Commission from Wexford County Council and is a member of Temple Bar Studios, Dublin.
Her work is represented in the collections of The Arts Council of Ireland, The Museum of English Rural Life Reading, Europol, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Office of Public Works, and Bank of Ireland.
Recent exhibitions include a solo at the Museum of English Rural Life, Reading, UK, and group shows in the Gregg Museum, North Carolina, USA; Bozar, Brussels; Sunderland Museum, UK, and Pace University Gallery, New York, USA.