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Art teams up with science in museum's new artist residency scheme – University of Reading

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Art teams up with science in museum's new artist residency scheme

Release Date 30 June 2017

A hen house in a photo in The MERL collections

A creative take on the humble hen house and work with scientists to explore the prospect of carbon neutral beef are in the works as two artists take up brand new roles at Reading’s Museum of English Rural Life (The MERL) for the summer.

The MERL, located on the University of Reading’s historic London Road campus, is welcoming two artists-in-residence this July – the first of their kind at the museum – to explore health, food and farming themes in creative, and sometimes unusual, ways.

Christine Mackey and Deirdre O’Mahony were selected by a panel of specialists and will focus on the theme of livestock. They will draw inspiration from art, artefacts and archives held by the University of Reading and be advised by research being carried out there.

The Wellcome Trust has provided £385,277 of funding for The MERL’s project, entitled Our Country Lives: Nutrition, Health and Rural England. The project will examine the past, present and future science of rural life, and reveal compelling stories of nutrition, health and medicine.

Kate Arnold-Forster, Director of The MERL, said: “We are delighted to be welcoming Deirdre and Christine to take up these artist residencies and look forward to experiencing new insights and interpretation of the Museum’s collections through their work.

“Supported by the Wellcome Trust, this is a great opportunity to explore the potential of the MERL to inspire creativity that will engage audiences in new and exciting ways.”

Artwork meets science

Christine Mackey will be investigating how the way people farm poultry has changed in the last century, how interrelated the food chains of poultry and humans are, and new ways to recycle waste materials.

She plans to create a structure for The MERL garden that has the dual purpose of an art installation and a functioning hen house. She intends to review historic habitats to help The MERL bridge the gap between its urban audiences and its collections that revolve around rural life.

She said: “I am excited to take up this residency which opens up a new way of reimagining the crafting of poultry practice, key associated objects and people.”

Deirdre O’Mahony will take inspiration from research carried out in the University of Reading’s School of Agriculture, on feeding livestock a crop called sainfoin could reduce their emissions. She will engage with scientists, local farmers and museum archives to test the idea of carbon-neutral beef. Her work will be a nod to the changes farmers have had to make throughout history to adapt to changing economic and climatic conditions.

Globally, greenhouse gas emissions from livestock supply chains account for 14.5% of human-caused greenhouse gas releases [source: FAO]. Learning from past practices and seizing upon opportunities to reduce livestock emissions is therefore an important step to tackling climate change.

Deirdre said: “I am delighted to participate in this exciting residency which will allow me to research the historical use of sainfoin, used extensively as livestock fodder up to the 1950s in England.

Scientists at the School of Agriculture, University of Reading, have been examining sainfoin as a crop that can improve animal health, reduce methane gas production and help restore biodiversity and soil health.

“During my time at The MERL I will use the extensive collection of artefacts, archives, film and audio recordings, as well as filming new footage to trace and reflect upon the ‘lost’ history of sainfoin for installation in the museum later this year. Thanks to the Wellcome Trust for the opportunity.”

Photo credit: Photo from The MERL collections

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