Deirdre O’Mahony

As a prelude, O’Mahony describes her younger self growing up in Ireland and her transfer to London and back again. Her art practice is completely different to that when she was at art school – once upon a time, she used to paint and draw, but would want to come away from the stereotypical Irish artist painting the landscape. Ireland, for O’Mahony, was shifting, and thus her change of scenery to London.
In St Martins, London, O’Mahony completed art school, however she came into an unsuspected time of punk. This was more of a culture shock than what was expected, however this was the culture shock that she felt like she needed, in order to find her identity again. Spending a lot of time down the pub, she managed to bump into several other Irish artists, musicians and writers, including the leader of Nipple Erect (who she later married, and further later divorced). Unfortunately, these Irish men and women came to London at a time that you were judged for having an accent, even if they just wanted to be accepted for who they are – authentically Irish. This has largely influenced her artwork.
Two decades later, O’Mahony returned to Ireland determined to live in a beautiful, rural and tranquil part, where she didn’t want to just paint landscapes. The different desires of the people destroyed the ideal place that it was when a building was proposed, and it tore the community apart. For O’Mahony, she found that some people were perhaps meeting their psychological limits in this place, simply because they wanted to preserve the beauty. The locals, on the other hand, wanted to keep their town. This was very much a social aesthetic conversation of landscape. O’Mahony incorporated and worked through some of these complications and desires of landscape in her work.
Farmers were always seen as wrecking the landscape until around ten years ago. O’Mahony was asked to make a work about this landscape that the farmers worked on, and she wanted to concentrate this on the feral goats (2003). This time, there was a different controversy going on about the goats, that were being culled by the farmers. The original idea was to make a ‘No Entry’ sign out of the edelweiss that would grow. This quickly moved onto the idea of a giant cross in the land, because the area was known as the cross land – the cattle would return thinner than they set out as.
As part of this project, O’Mahony set up her office in a local pub, which allowed her to view the change of social structures and the social fabric in Ireland. Here, she got chatting with the only two people that would seem to visit; farmers. It was from these farmers that O’Mahony learnt why the sheep were getting culled; a few years ago, an artist let some domesticated sheep free and these sheep bred with the feral sheep. The feral sheep would jump over the walls that the farmers had, but this new breed would barge at it. The farmers would then get heavily fined for having damaged dry stone walls on his land, and thus would cull the sheep that did this. At this time, hazel was also spreading, and O’Mahony thought it was due to the lack of the goats. After talking to scientists and farmers, it was found that this was because of a change in the weather and the farmers moving to work part time. Thus, it was more complicated than originally thought. The cross arms of this piece were 50m each in length and photographed with a kite and a cradle.
Moving onto her next project, O’Mahony made the former post office building into X-PO; an area for public art projects. As many of the former post masters belongings were still there, a temporary archive was made for those visiting to view what he used in his day-to-day life. O’Mahony were also approached by another group of people to wanted to display how rural Irish communities came from old to new. In the past, two anthropologists wrote about the day-to-day lives, but in the town that it was written about, a veil of silence still remains there today because of the hurt these books caused. In conversation with this, another anthropology has recently been written in conjunction with some of the diaries of these family members, and the relatives, to write a more detailed and accurate account from the Irish perspective. These people came to X-PO in order to get ‘family and community’ in a curatorial way.
Another group that X-PO helped was the mapping group. This group comes together to write down the occupants of each house to before the great famine and to when history was oral. Many of the older generation are part of this, as they are the last to know this information orally. In one ‘house number A1: Sean O’Conchuil died during the famine. Snails, shells & bits of turnip were found in his house afterwards…’
Through the continual conversation between herself and the community and the farmers, O’Mahony went on to study potatoes. There is not only the specific knowledge about growing potatoes, but also the global knowledge of their use. The project of SPUD was founded through this in order to prove and protect this crop. It is being used as a cash crop to breach the hunger gap in places such as Asia and India with the use of the lazy bed.
O’Mahony worked with Nadege Marieu, who videoed potatoes growing through holes in the ground. O’Mahony also tried to work and engage with Irish people in London in order to grow more potatoes. This is where the MOPE (most oppressed people ever) potato cakes came from, so that we might digest the history. Literally. She also made an animation throughout this in order for people to gain the knowledge of how to make a potato lazy bed. A temporary memorial on the front lawn of a grand house was made as part of this to create an open process of growing potatoes. This was a giant cross made in the shape of an X out of potato ridges. Instead of setting up office in a pub, this work was advertised through the framing of punk posters.
O’Mahony feels that she uses potatoes and grows them like she advertises them in both her day-to-day life and her artwork. This has largely been influenced by A Parmentier in France who revolutionised potatoes in France. In the Irish Museum of Modern Art, this had a large influence, whereupon she creates a zigzag pattern of potato ridges from an Irish arts and crafts text. This displays that potatoes have other meanings other than their use of food. O’Mahony is now looking into the sustainability of other foods and that of rural places.

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