Dornith Doherty
Arts in the Humanities Lecture Series – Archiving Eden
Photographer, Professor North Texas (and Rice Alumna)
Photography Project: Vault Exchange (international seed bank)

Rice Media Center 
Friday, March 6, 2020 // 7:00 PM
With reception post lecture

Spurred by the completion of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Dornith Doherty began 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 extinction of natural species. The simultaneously optimistic and pessimistic nature of the Svalbard Vault is compelling: individuals and governments from around the world are collaborating to create the first truly global botanical back-up system, but also, the gravity of climate change and political instability has created the need for an inaccessible “Doomsday Vault” near the North Pole.

Researching, photographing, and collaborating with scientists at many of the most comprehensive seed banks in the world, including: the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation in the USA; the Millennium Seed Bank in England; PlantBank, Threatened Flora Centre, and Kings Park Botanic Gardens in Australia; the N.I. Vavilov Institute for Plant Industry in Russia; and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, Doherty discovered a complex web of political and economic issues surrounding these large-scale collections relating to the control of one of the world’s most basic resources. The result of this ongoing investigation is two deeply entwined bodies of work: Archiving Eden and Archiving Eden: The Vaults (both 2008–present). 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 reveal scientific heritage and refer to our cultural aspirations and fears, which in turn govern what is saved and why.

Digital collages, made with x-ray images of thousands of seeds Doherty captured using on-site research equipment, are a more intimate exploration of individual seeds and plant samples stored in these crucial collections. The surprising visual power of magnified x-ray images, which can record what is invisible to the human eye, illuminates her considerations of not only the intangible philosophical, anthropological, and ecological issues surrounding the role of science and human agency embedded in the very act of gene banking, but also of the poetic questions about life and time on a macro and micro scale. Doherty is fascinated by the power of these tiny plantlets and seeds to generate life, and to endure the timespan central to the process of seed banking, which seeks to make these sparks endure for two hundred years or more.

DORNITH DOHERTY is an artist whose work is concerned with our stewardship of the natural environment. Her photographic project Archiving Eden, is an extensive, dual-faceted body of work. Collaborating with scientists and seed banks on four continents, she has traced in precise detail the elaborate systems of secure spaces and technological interventions required for botanical preservation. She documents the complex issues surrounding the role of science and human agency in preserving biodiversity, and reflects upon poetic questions about life and time through artworks created from x-rays captured from seeds, tissue samples, and cloned plants preserved in these collections.

A 2012 Guggenheim Foundation Fellow, Dornith Doherty was born in Houston, Texas and received a B.A. cum laude from Rice University and a MFA in Photography from Yale University. In addition to the Guggenheim Fellowship, she has also received grants from the Fulbright Foundation, the Japan Foundation, the Indiana Arts Commission, and the United States Department of the Interior, the University of North Texas, and the Houston Center for Photography. Doherty’s work has been featured in exhibitions widely in the US and abroad at institutions including the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, the Bluecoat, Liverpool, England; the Centro de Fotografía, Tenerife, Spain; the Encuentros Abiertos Photography Biennial in Buenos Aires, Argentina; FotoFest, Houston, Texas; the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN; the Museum Belvédère, Heerenveen, the Netherlands; the Museum of Photography, Rafaela, Argentina; the National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C.; the New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe, NM; the Ontario Science Centre, Toronto, Canada; and the Tucson Museum of Art, Tucson, AZ. She has been invited to present scholarly papers and artist talks at over 80 institutions and conferences worldwide.

Doherty’s work has been featured by American Way magazine, BBC’s Focus magazine, Dallas Morning NewsDu magazine, HyperallergicNew Yorker: Photo BoothNatGeoOxford American JournalHarper’sthe Smithsonian MagazineSmith Journal AustraliaTexas MonthlyTomboy TartsWall Street Journal, and Wired magazine, among others.

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The Arts in the Humanities Lecture Series is generously supported by the Jerome Segal Endowment in the Department of Visual and Dramatic Arts as well as the Dean of the School of Humanities. 

The Department of Visual and Dramatic Arts supports the Arts in the Humanities Lecture Series that brings national and international artists and scholars to give talks on their work and research.  The lectures are during the academic year, usually once in the fall and once in the spring.  Speakers for the next academic year will be announced in the fall.