“Seeds of Time,” Cary Fowler. A film by Sandy Mcleod, 77 minutes, still images of the documentary feature, 2013. Shanghai Himalayas Museum installation view, 2017


A perfect storm is brewing as agricultural pioneer Cary Fowler races against time to protect the future of our food. Seed banks around the world are crumbling, crop failures are leading to starvation and riots, and the accelerating effects of climate change are impacting farmers globally. As the production of high-yielding, uniform varieties has increased, diversity has declined. For example, in the United States vegetable crops now have less than seven percent of the diversity that existed just a century ago. We are confronted with the global pressures of feeding a growing population, in a time when staple crops face new threats from disease and changing climates. As the stakes of maintaining a secure global food system continue to rise, adaptation will become a requisite for our own survival.

How can we best maintain the food crop diversity that still exists? How do we create new forms of diversity so that our fields might adapt to a changing climate? The answers are as complex as the system they intend to fix. And it will require a combination of efforts: from scientists, plant breeders, researchers, farmers, politicians, and even gardeners.

Directed by Sandy Mcleod, “Seeds of Time” is a portrait by Cary Fowler, who set out to build the world’s first global seed vault—a seed collection on a scale larger than any other. The vault, located in Norway, is an unprecedented insurance policy for the crop diversity of the world. Sharing its imminent message, the Shanghai Project presents two works inspired by the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, including the aforementioned film and a performance at the exhibition opening ceremony.

Cary Fowler is an American agriculturalist and the former executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, currently serving as a Senior Advisor to the trust. Cary’s career in the conservation and use of crop diversity spans 30 years. In 1985, he was awarded the Right Livelihood Award (the “Alternative Nobel Prize”) in a ceremony in the Swedish Parliament. In the 1990s, he headed the International Conference and Program on Plant Genetic Resources at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), which produced the UN's first ever global assessment of the state of the world’s plant genetic resources. He is a past-member of the National Plant Genetic Resources Board of the U.S., the Board of Trustees of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico, and is currently Chair of the International Advisory Council of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.