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At a moment when ecological concerns are becoming increasingly urgent, Seeds: Containers of a World to Come brings into dialogue work by ten contemporary artists whose research-based practices are defined by sustained inquiry into plant–human–land relations. For the artists Shiraz Bayjoo, Carolina Caycedo, Juan William Chávez, Beatriz Cortez, Ellie Irons, Kapwani Kiwanga, Jumana Manna, Anne Percoco, Cecilia Vicuña, and Emmi Whitehorse, the seed is the kernel, literally and metaphorically, of their investigations into issues of fragility, preservation, and possibility in the face of the global climate crisis.

Working with and from a diversity of geographical and cultural contexts—Africa, the Americas, the Middle East, and Western Europe—the artists in the exhibition create captivating sculptures, films, installations, and paintings that range from abstract to speculative to documentary. They share an anticolonial perspective critical of extractive capitalism. Jumana Manna’s poetic film Wild Relatives (2018), for example, follows the 2017 journey of seeds across different geographies, exploring the relationships among the war in Syria, the geopolitics of seed banking, and the loss of biodiversity due to industrial agriculture. Kapwani Kiwanga’s biomorphic, inflatable Vivarium (2020) sculptures reimagine the nineteenth-century Wardian case, a type of portable greenhouse that enabled the transport of live plants across the globe, impacting ecosystems worldwide and underscoring our controlling relationship with nature. Beatriz Cortez’s hand-crafted steel sculpture Chultún El Semillero (2021) exudes a futuristic sensibility—an imagined space capsule, a living garden of plants indigenous to the Americas, and a seed bank preserving seeds for the future.

Together the artworks in the exhibition suggest the seed as a timely means to address existential matters. Seeds are the first link in the food chain, the embodiment of biological and cultural diversity, and the repository of life’s future evolution. Cultivated by humans for millennia, seed varieties carry with them local histories as well as histories of migration and survival, bridging cultures, territories, and time periods. As Cecilia Vicuña puts it, “Every seed is a spaceship, a nomad planet waiting to sprout.” The exhibition aims to spark active and imaginative responses through encounters with visually arresting artworks that reflect on and reframe our understanding of current environmental challenges and our connection to the natural world.

The exhibition is curated by Meredith Malone, curator at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, and Svea Braeunert, research associate at the School of Design at the University of Applied Sciences, Potsdam, Germany.