One day I was showing the sea to a girl who was seeing it for the first time; she declared that she thought a field of potatoes was a far more impressive sight.
Deirdre O’Mahony began the SPUD project in 2009, initiating a research process that led to collaborative projects, commissioned artworks, events and installations in Ireland, Europe and the USA from 2011- 17. The Persistent Return marks the concluding phase of the project and will tour to national and international venues.
The potato is a potent image to evoke in relation to food and food security in Ireland, exposing, as it does, conscious and unconscious attitudes to land and alterity within and beyond the nation state. SPUD was initiated in order to present a more nuanced understanding of the potato’s role in Irish culture, in relation to food security and globalised food production.
SPUD research follows four strands; indicating unconscious attitudes towards rurality, the land, identity and otherness in Ireland; re-imagining the relevance and use-value of tacit agricultural knowledge to food production today; tracing the potatoes’ importance to global food security; reflecting on new seed developments, seed diversity, seed sovereignty and cultural rights. By looking back to the Irish Famine, further back to the colonial violence that brought the potato to Europe, and connecting it to migration, famine and food security today, SPUD makes use of the potato to map controversies around these threads, providing an understandable and accessible entry point for a public discourse on sustainability, food security and tacit cultivation knowledge.
Projects at X-PO demonstrated the extent and depth of traditional farming knowledge specific to the area and SPUD came about as a way of sharing potato-growing knowledge through the production of a GIY guide to making traditional ‘lazy-beds’ or potato ridges; a simple and effective way of cultivating potatoes suitable for small urban gardens. The first SPUD Pamphlet was produced in Collaboration with US artist Frances Whitehead and X-PO participants Francis Whelan, Tom Keating and Michael Malone and given away on the X-PO stall during Grizedale Arts' project for Frieze art fair in 2012, one of many X-PO SPUD events, talks, screenings and installations that took place from 2011 - 2015.
Further research and projects took place in Ireland between 2015 - 2016 in Donegal with the late Fr. John Silke (2014), the National Irish Famine Museum Strokestown, County Roscommon (2015), at Callan Workhouse as part of the Callan Workhouse Union project (2015) and A Village Plot at the Irish Museum of Modern Art as part of the IMMA/Grizedale Arts A Fair Land residency.
Projects also took place beyond Ireland during a residency hosted by Jiwar Barcelona, and as part of the Anna Lindh Foundation networking events in Tarroudent, Morocco.