Galway International Arts Festival


O'Donaghue Theatre, NUIG, Galway, 16–29 July

11am–6pm Late opening to 8pm Thursday–Saturday


Speculative Optimism was produced while on the Welcome Foundation Livestock residency in 2017 at the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL), University of Reading. The project began with the proposition, is ‘carbon-neutral’ beef possible? Research at the university into the effect of different kinds of forage on animal and soil health is currently underway. Sainfoin, a variety of forage once used extensively in the south of England, is being investigated for its beneficial effect as it grows in near drought conditions, is highly beneficial to bees, and fixes nitrogen in the soil. However it takes time to establish and for that reason, is considered less economically efficient than the rye grass used extensively in livestock and dairy production today. Sainfoin fell out of use with the modernisation of agriculture but is now under investigation for its potential use-value given climate change, a global shortage of nitrogen and the collapse of bee colonies. The residency provided access to the MERL archives to investigate references to historical forages like Sainfoin and review some of the extensive collection of historical documentary films produced to teach increased efficiency in agriculture. 

Speculative Optimism is the poetic essayistic film produced from this research. Shot in the museum archives, at the University of Reading’s Hall Farm and a Cotswold Seed’s Honeydale Farm and factory, the film points to the history of changing agricultural policies that now requires farmers to be economically efficient, practice environmental sustainability and maintain the visual premium and heritage value of landscapes. Some might argue this is an impossible task. Refusing a singular position or narrative, the film relies on unconscious visual associations inspired by the imagery to provide unexpected insights into the complexities of global food production today.

  Speculative Optimism Farm film still Photograph Tom Flanagan


Produced and Directed by Deirdre O’Mahony

Editor:  Connie Farrell

Camera: Tom Flanagan

Additional Camera: Deirdre O’Mahony

Design:  Kaye Tolland


Particular thanks to:  

The Staff at the Museum of English Rural Life.

Cotswold Seeds Ltd., Honeydale Farm.

Dr. David Humphries, Dr. Anna Thompson CEDAR, University of Reading Hall Farm.

Alex Lasater, The Dale Lasater Ranch, Matheson, Colorado, USA.

Dr. Irene Muller-Harvey and the LegumePlus Project, University of Reading.