About the project

‘Explorations of the Seed Vault’ is an experimental project about interpreting and communicating data from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The project is being developed by Jørn Knutsen and Einar Sneve Martinussen from the Oslo School of Architecture, and the design studio Voy. This data-exploration project as part of an online residency at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Prague (DOX) and shown as a work-in-progess in the exhibition Big Bang Data (Summer 2017).

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is located underground in the permafrost on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen in the arctic Svalbard archipelago. This is the world’s largest secure seed storage facility and currently holds seeds from 5.499 species of crop plants. is collection is an important global collaboration for preserving the biodiversity and resilience of crops for the future. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault was opened in 2008 and is managed through an agreement between the Norwegian government, the Crop Trust and the Nordic Genetic Resource Centre (NordGen).

The samples in the Svalbard Seed Vault are back-up copies of seeds held in seed banks all over the world. In case of unforeseen events, or regional or global crisis, the Vault can act as a safeguard against the loss of seeds and genetic diversity. About three times a year new seed samples are deposited in the Seed Vault. Currently, in June 2017, the vault holds 597.238.873 seeds.

The entrance of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Spitsbergen, Norway. Photo: Royal Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food via Flickr.

The popular narratives about the Svalbard seed vault are typically about the climate crisis and looming doomsday. However, the Seed Vault is also a story about global collaboration, hope and securing the future of humankind and biodiversity. In this data-exploration project we seek to highlight this. Our intention is to showcase and develop novel perspectives or narratives about the diversity and richness of the otherwise hidden content of the Seed Vault.

Seed samples being depostited in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Spitsbergen, Norway. Photo: Royal Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food via Flickr.

When the Svalbard Global Seed Vault opened in 2008 the The Nordic Genetic Resources Center, NordGen, made the data of the vault openly available online. This intrigued us at the time. Svalbard is a remote and largely inaccessible place, but the vault’s data is openly accessible by everyone. This digital repository represents, we would argue, a narrative that is just as spectacular as those about the ‘doomsday vault in the Arctic’ (and the buildings possible weaknesses). The open digital data-base of the Seed Vault tells a subtle, impressive story of knowledge, logistics and global collaboration.

Carl Linneaus — Praeludia Sponsaliorum Plantarum (1729)

While the data we examine is digital, in this project we draw inspiration from the establishment of modern botany and empirical natural science from the 1700s and 1800s, where descriptive exploration, botany, collection and storytelling were integrated in natural science communication.

Georgius Dionysius Ehret — Plantae selectae quarum imagines ad exemplaria naturalia Londini, in hortis curiosorum nutritamanu artificiosa doctaque pinxit (1750).

Through a series of visual explorations we will investigate, analyse and interpret publicly available data from the Seed Vault, combined with other relevant databases. These exploration, alongside our thematic research, will be documented and reflected on through an ongoing project blog. The project’s output is open ended, but could include interactive tools, visualisations or stories on the Web, or printed material showing relationships between the seeds, botany, Svalbard and the world.

Have you got any questions or suggestions? Is there anything you would like to know about the Svalbard Global Seed Vault and its content? Please let us know (in the comments below).

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