For twelve years the American artist Dornith Doherty has been leading a project on the preservation and conservation of plant seeds: “Archiving Eden”. Doherty explores “seed banks” also known as “grain libraries” dedicated to conserving, protecting, and analyzing plant seeds from many species. By studying the evolution of these new types of plant granaries over a long period of time, the artist identifies the imperceptible consequences of climate change on biodiversity.

This transdisciplinary project, between science and art, using photography, video, and scientific imaging, is now entering its third and final phase.

“Archiving Eden: The Vaults” was the first phase of this project. In 2008, the artist embarked on a photographic report on the world’s twenty largest seed banks, starting with the National Agricultural Research Centre for the Preservation of Genetic Resources in Colorado, the Millennium Seed Bank of the United Kingdom, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Society (EMBRAPA), and the Nikolai Vavilov Institute in Russia.

The second phase, “Archiving Eden: Exchange”, is an artistic proposal resulting from this research, in the form of an installation. It consists of 5000 seed views (the smallest number required to preserve a plant species) passed under black and white X-rays and organized within a glass structure. This installation was inaugurated this year at the artist’s personal exhibition in the Toronto Museum of Contemporary Art, where visitors were encouraged to interact with the artwork by exchanging an X-ray of a seed for a transparent envelope containing a single Canadian seed.

Finally, the research now leads to a more abstract and poetic work, on a microscale. Lenticular photography evolves shapes and colours depending on the viewer’s point of view, thus evoking the unsuspected force of these seeds to produce life. 

“Archiving Eden” is an invitation to bear witness and raise awareness concerning the impact of climate change, bringing into focus a number of disparate though connected destructive agents: genetically modified seeds, wars, pesticides and the decrease and disappearance of certain plant species… Furthermore, we are encouraged to question how humanity reacts to what threatens its own conditions of existence. Will these conserved species be destined to become witnesses of a bygone nature, or will they contain the solutions for the future, and who will give them a second chance at life and welcome their diversity? 

Alice Audouin and Marie Leprêtre


November 2020 

Crédit: “Archiving Eden”, Dornith Doherty, Digital Chromogenic Lenticular Photograph, courtesy of the artist

Find all the articles from Impact Art News n°24 – November 2020

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