Maria McKinney’s exhibition for Illuminations gallery considers a possible co-relation between two seemingly disparate subject areas – genetics and pagan ritual.
In pre-Christian Europe, people annually performed customs in relation to the reaping and sewing of the harvest. These rituals have since been popularly interpreted as an attempt to influence the future behaviour of nature. Part of this practice involved making a corn dolly, an object made through the intricate handcraft of binding straw with the final sheaf of that year’s crop. This figurine is regarded as the vessel to where the spirit of the harvest resorted and resided through the winter months after the crop was reaped. In spring it would be returned to the earth by being buried under the first sown seed. This doll has since become a symbol of fertility, both of the land and the living creatures that feed off it.
In contemporary society however, the branch of knowledge known as genomics has given humans the ability to truly influence how nature behaves in future generations of animal and plant species. Having gained an understanding of the complex structure of genes and their functionality, the emergence of bioinformatics has allowed scientists to direct breeding strategies with the objective of achieving more physically healthy and commercially productive animals.
The colourful objects on the back of the bulls are made from semen straws, the storage receptacles used in the artificial insemination process. Produced in highly hygienic environments, these receptacles come in a variety of bright pop colours to help distinguish between different bull’s semen while being stored in liquid nitrogen.
As the semen straw is party to these 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. The animals are the bearers of these ceremonial-inspired sculptures. Together, the carrier and object coalesce into something strange and entrancing.
This body of work is proposed as a rephrasing of what was once intangible. Now we not only understand these formerly mysterious processes of propagation, but also manipulate them to our own ends. This ability is in itself a cause of wonderment; the magic has become in a sense, real.
Previous solo exhibitions include the RHA, Dublin; Lokaal 01, Antwerp, Belgium (both 2016); La Permanence, Clermont-Ferrand, France (2015); the MAC, Belfast (2012) and the Lab Gallery, Dublin (2010). Maria was shortlisted for the MAC International Prize 2014, selected by Judith Nesbitt, Francesco Bonami and Hugh Mulholland. She has completed a residency in Skowhegan in 2017, an international summer school in Maine, USA, the UCD school of science 2015/16 and Fire Station Artists Studios 2012-2015.