CPNAS - Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Sciences
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Dornith Doherty: Archiving Eden

February 15, 2019 - July 15, 2019

NAS Building, 2101 Constitution Ave., N.W.

Free. Photo ID required.

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Since 2008, Texas-based photographer Dornith Doherty has traveled around the world to photograph the spaces and contents of seed banks. By focusing on the pleasing aesthetics of seeds and the buildings constructed to conserve biodiversity, she has constructed a visual meditation on the planet’s botanical diversity.

Supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship, Doherty initially began documenting the seed vaults to explore the role of seed banks and their preservation efforts in the face of climate change, the extinction of natural species, and decreased agricultural diversity. Serving as a global botanical backup system, these privately and publicly funded institutions assure the opportunity for reintroduction of species should a catastrophic event affect a key ecosystem somewhere in the world.

Within this series, Doherty juxtaposes images of the vaults with plants and seeds visualized through a variety of imaging techniques. Utilizing the archives’ on-site x-ray equipment that is routinely used for viability assessments of accessioned seeds, she documents and subsequently collages the seeds and tissue samples stored in these crucial collections. As the artist writes, “The amazing visual power of magnified x-ray images, which spring from the technology’s ability to record what is invisible to the human eye, illuminates my considerations not only of the complex philosophical, anthropological, and ecological issues surrounding the role of science and human agency in relation to gene banking, but also of the poetic questions about life and time on a macro and micro scale.”

Since the beginning of this project Doherty has worked in an ongoing collaboration with: renowned biologists; the most comprehensive international seed banks in the world; the United States Department of Agriculture; Agricultural Research Service’s National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation in Colorado; the Millennium Seed Bank; Royal Botanic Gardens; Kew in England; PlantBank; Threatened Flora Centre; and Kings Park Botanic Gardens in Australia.

The exhibition “Archiving Eden,” curated by John Rohrbach, was first exhibited at the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.

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