Maarten Vanden Eynde

The Great Decline (2019), Meessen De Clercq Gallery, Brussels, Belgium (photo: Philippe De Gobert)

The Great Decline (2019), Meessen De Clercq Gallery, Brussels, Belgium (photo: Philippe De Gobert)

Biodiversity is in dangerous decline in both the animal and plant kingdoms. One of the ways in which the survival of as many different plant species as possible is, hopefully, being secured is the creation of gene banks in seed vaults and time capsules. In 2008, Norway opened the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which stores a collection of duplicate samples, or ‘spare copies’, of seeds held in gene banks around the world, as a backup in case of regional or global disasters. In 2018, the collection surpassed one million samples, comprising more than one third of the world’s most important food crop varieties.

'The Great Decline' combines the blueprints of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, visualised as a copper circuit on large-scale PCBs (printed circuit boards), with a wide variety of seeds collected from different parts of the world. Together they make up a huge lukasa, or memory board, reminiscent of those used by members of the Mbudye association in the Kingdom of Luba (now part of the Democratic Republic of Congo) as an archive for the topographical and chronological mapping of political histories and a means of remembering important people, places and mythical migration routes.

The seeds in 'The Great Decline' were collected from the Meise Botanic Garden (Belgium), the Jardin Botanique de Lubumbashi (DR Congo), and various other places around the world. Their organisation on the circuit board relates to the graphic outlines of the blueprint of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault and mimics transistors and other electrical components that are mounted on PCBs. They allude to seed collection, preservation, modification and militarisation.