The Persistent Return


A moving-image installation that resulted from research and projects focusing on the potato.

The Persistent Return is a two-screen, moving image installation which reflects on the history of global imperial power left residually in the worlds that surround the potato; from its initial cultivation in South America to the role it played in consolidating and concentrating power in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The artwork was a way of thinking through ideas that emerged over a ten-year project called SPUD. The potato was a powerful object to think through, surfacing histories of hunger, survival and food security; providing the possibility of freedom from recurring cycles of famine but also a reminder of the consequences of a lethal dependency on monoculture. The film points to the human cost of privileging scientific rationalism at the expense of tacit knowledge – a reminder that the skills of both head and hand are needed to actively respond to the challenges presented by global inequalities and climate change today.


Written and directed by Deirdre O’Mahony, Produced by Éilis Lavelle, Cinematographer: Tom Flanagan, Editor: Connie Farrell, Sound Recordist: John Brennan. Vocal improvisations: Branwen and Julie Kavanagh Electronic Score: Alexandru Trendler. Voiceover (Gaeilge) Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, (English) Deirdre O’Mahony.

Commissioned by Workhouse Union with an Arts Council Project Award. Additional support VISUAL Carlow and the Irish Museum of Modern Art Residency programme.

Thanks to the Irish Architectural Archives and the National Irish Folklore Archives

Overview of the SPUD Project. 


  • Callan Workhouse, Co. Kilkenny
  • VISUAL Carlow
  • Museum of Natural History, Leeuwarden
  • Irish Museum of Modern Art