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Dornith Doherty (USA)

Archiving Eden

Spurred by the completion of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, I began the project Archiving Eden in 2008 as a way to explore the role of seed banks and their preservation efforts in the face of climate change and the coming extinction of many natural species. I found the simultaneously optimistic and pessimistic nature of the Svalbard Vault compelling: individuals and governments from around the world are collaborating to create the first truly global botanical backup system, which is a positive development; but it is the acute gravity of climate change and the political instability it is causing that has created the need for this “Doomsday Vault” near the North Pole. In researching international seed banks, I discovered a complex web of political and economic issues surrounding these large-scale collections, all relating to who should have control of one of the world’s most basic resources.

As Archiving Eden developed, collaboration became an important facet of the project since I was working closely with biologists at the seed banks to gain special access and a deeper understanding of the collections. Through this critical research, I developed a dual approach. On the one hand, documentary images in the series record the spaces and technological interventions required to store seeds and clones in a state of suspended animation. These images of architecture, technology, and types of collections provide a window on our scientific heritage and our cultural aspirations and fears, which in turn govern what is saved and why.

On the other hand, the digital collages, made using onsite X-ray equipment, are a more intimate exploration of the individual seeds and plant samples stored in these crucial collections. These magnified poetic images illuminate questions about life and time on a macro and micro scale. I am constantly struck by the power of these tiny plantlets and seeds to generate life after enduring a time span of centuries, which is central to the process of seed banking.

Lenticular animations created from the collages allowed me to present still-life images of the archives, which appear to change color or move when viewed from different angles. This tension between stillness and change reflects my focus on the elusive goal of stopping time when living materials are at stake.

Dornith Doherty


Dornith Doherty’s work explores the relationship between the natural environment and human agency, while raising the question of how cultural aspirations and fear govern what is saved in nature and why. She received a B.A., cum laude, from Rice University and a M.F.A. from Yale University before becoming a distinguished research professor of art at the University of North Texas. A 2012 Guggenheim Fellow, Doherty has also received grants from the Fulbright Foundation, Japan Foundation, and United States Department of the Interior. The Texas Legislature named her a 2016 Texas State Artist. Her work has been exhibited and collected extensively, throughout the United States and abroad, and was included in recent exhibitions at the Tucson Museum of Art (2013); Bluecoat, Liverpool (2013); Museum Belvédère, Heerenveen/Oranjewoud, the Netherlands (2012); New Mexico Museum of Art,Santa Fe (2011); and Centro de Fotografía Isla de Tenerife, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain (2011). Doherty is represented by MoodyGallery in Houston and by Holly Johnson Gallery in Dallas.

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