Thursday, 20 February 2020

Artist was inspired by old livestock portraits

Artist was inspired by old livestock portraits

STRAWS used to artificially inseminate cattle have been turned into eye-catching works of art, which are now on display at the University’s of Reading’s Museum of English Rural Life (MERL).

The sculptures in the Sire exhibition, which runs until Sunday, May 5, reflect things like protein and DNA structures, and reference breeding techniques used by farmers for nearly 200 years to perfect their livestock. Genetic modifications included removing horns and improving milk yields or muscle mass.

Artist Maria McKinney was inspired by collections of 18th and 19th century livestock portraits in the MERL’s collections — paintings that exaggerated the features bred into the animals and turned them into what she calls “the first viral celebrities”.

McKinney completed her sculptures by mounting them on to the backs of live bulls and taking photographs mimicking the formulaic style of these paintings.

The nine large-scale photographic prints she has produced, which refer to the nine different techniques used in a new breeding programme in Ireland, will also go on display.

McKinney said: “It was essential for me that the sculptures communicated something about the lived reality of these bulls.

“And the reality is that their entire lives are shaped around human consumption — their bodies enter our bodies through this consumption of meat and dairy. So having their bodies as an intrinsic element of the work was my reason for putting the sculptures on them.”

McKinney visited the MERL in 2015 to explore its archive of livestock portraits, as well as other farming artefacts symbolising fertility, which heavily influenced her sculptures and photos.

The MERL exhibition is a one-time-only chance to see the artwork surrounded by the archives that conceived it, and the first time the entire series has been displayed in public.

Entry to both the exhibition and the museum are free. For more information, including a list of opening times, visit https://merl.

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