Ingleby Gallery has launched an exhibition of new work by Scottish conceptual artist Katie Paterson. This exhibition reflects on how our lives affect the universe, the planet and each other. The experience of the pandemic has awakened many to our climate emergency, bringing hope of rapid transformational change to protect the earth and our future.
Fife-based artist Katie Paterson has an international reputation and following. Her work blends science with art to explore the existential and our relationship with the cosmos. In previous works, Paterson sent a meteorite back into space, mapped all the dead stars and bounced a recording of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata off the surface of the moon. Her graduation show involved setting up a live phone line from Iceland to broadcast the sounds of a melting glacier.
Requiem (2022) is an artwork that represents the birth and lifespan of our planet. In the centre of the main gallery space on the ground floor, secured on a plinth, sits a large empty glass receptacle reminiscent of a funerary urn. A narrow shelf lines the surrounding walls holding 364 palm-sized glass cups, each one filled with 21g of dust. Paterson has ground this dust from objects of significance from all around the world. All the glass for this artwork is handblown. The urn-shaped glass vessel will be filled with the gathered dust, from material dating from pre-solar times to the present. This new commission by Ingleby Gallery and the National Glass Centre, Sunderland is part of the Glass Exchange project.
Each cup of dust is sequenced in chronological order from different geological time periods. The first cup contains the oldest material, the dust of a pre-solar meteorite from over four billion years ago. The last cup is the remains of the most recent species to become extinct in the wild – a snail from Polynesia. Many of the cups contain ‘firsts’ and ‘lasts’ in nature or unique materials.
One by one, each cup will be poured into the urn throughout the duration of the exhibition by the community, young people, environmentalists and academics. Layers of dust will gradually build inside the urn. The ceremonial-like pouring will move sequentially through geological eras, through to the present hypothetical Anthropocene era. The finished artwork will resemble layers of striated fossilised rock, the oldest at the bottom, and the most recent forming the top layers.
Paterson worked with a long list of international geologists and academics to collect the most significant objects possible, taking three years to build this collection. It’s exciting to note that the artist received widespread support and interest from beyond the art world when researching the materials for Requiem and has worked in close collaboration with David Farrier, Professor of Literature and The Environment at the University of Edinburgh – author of Footprints – in Search of Future Fossils and Anthropocene Poetics.
A booklet accompanies the artwork, listing the contents of each cup as well as a text exploring their significance by Jan Zalasiewicz, Emeritus Professor of Paleobiology at University of Leicester and author of The Earth After Us. A further publication devoted to the artwork will be published soon and will include essays by Farrier, and Jay Griffiths, author of Wild, An Elemental Journey.
This lamenting ritual of dust pouring may even throw up some surprises. These materials have never shared the same vessel together, touching each other, their weight upon each other, perhaps even mingling and reacting to each other in a way we’ve never seen before. Indeed, some of the dust has magnetic properties.
Another surprising element is the captivating spectrum of dust colours. As you’d expect, many of the samples are various tones of brown, but there’s also brighter hues of both natural and synthetic compounds.
Every detail in the artwork has significance. The average number of days in a year is 364.25. The weight of 21g is based on a well-known scientific experiment to determine the weight of a human soul when comparing the difference in body weight of a human before and after death.
The last series of layers (1945 – present) comprises almost a quarter of the collected dust samples. This emphasises the extent our modern era has negatively impacted the earth and its ecosystems. Requiem calls upon our imagination to experience the story of the world through what is left behind.
Once the pourings are complete, the urn containing the striated layers of dust, will be sealed and available to display as an artwork. It will then be displayed at the National Glass Centre until 11th September.
Upstairs in the Feast Room, Evergreen (2022) is a large, hand-embroidered tapestry depicting all the flowers and plants that no longer exist. Re-drawn as botanical illustrations, the flowers share stems woven together in a pattern inspired by the Arts & Crafts Owl pattern (1905-6) from designer May Morris. Plants are the life force of humans and animals but there are twice as many extinct plants as there are extinct animals.
Endling (2021) is a schematic circular painting presenting the history of life on our planet in one hundred pigments ground from various objects. It starts with the pre-solar dust of five billion years ago at the top, running chronologically through major extinctions, right through to ginkgo trees which survived the Hiroshima atom bomb.
Many will recognise Ideas (2014 – 21) – an evolving series of written poetic visual imaginings cut from sterling silver. Ideas is now a permanent exhibition commissioned by the University of Edinburgh’s College of Science and Engineering. It can be viewed on-site at the University of Edinburgh King’s buildings.
It is a characteristic quality of Paterson’s artworks, to hold the personal and universal in the same space. Her work has a voice beyond gallery walls and the art world. Paterson’s choices in these recent works reflect upon our part in the history of the earth and our capacity for destruction. Worthy as time capsules in their own right, it’s thought-provoking to imagine how these latest artworks might be viewed by future generations.
With grateful thanks for Artmag.co.uk to Julie Boyne for this review.