Katie Paterson is one of Scotland’s most renowned artists, who looks up to the stars and back down at the earth, considering our relationship to the planet, cosmos, and deep time. Born in Glasgow in 1981 and studying at Edinburgh College of Art and The Slade School of Art, Paterson has featured in exhibitions worldwide, including Kettle’s Yard, Turner Contemporary, and BAWAG Contemporary. Paterson collaborates with scientists and produces in-depth research to create works that bridge the gap between science and contemporary art.
‘Requiem’ turns its attention to geological time. The exhibition’s interpretative text emphasises that Paterson is not only a climate scientist who produces artwork but that she is heavily influenced by a ‘Romantic sensibility’ – i.e. an emotive rather than empirical attitude towards nature. Indeed one could see a 19th Century poet pleased by this exhibition, which prompts a philosophical outlook on our relationship with the universe rather than a purely scientific one.
‘Requiem’, the exhibition’s focus, comprises an urn filled with dust from before the Earth existed, all the way to the present day. Exhibition-goers and community groups can participate by pouring the dust of each of the 370 vials into the urn. The vials are positioned onto a shelf circumferencing the gallery, offering a visual representation of deep time and geological history that invites viewers to consider their small place within it. A publication accompanies this particular work, with commentary on each of the 370 different powders by the chair of the Anthropocene Working Group: Jan Zalasiewicz. From an Ancestral Pueblo pottery shard, one powder contemplates the disappearance of The Ancestral Puebloans. Another looks at early Triassic fish that thrived when other species couldn’t. The depth of research placed into each of these points in time creates compelling works that imitate short stories.
‘Evergreen’, a work on the gallery’s top floor, embroiders extinct plants onto silk. Each thread is an articulation of death and incriminates the helpless viewer. Time is visualised again by ‘Endling’, a circular painting which grounds its pigments from the dust of 5 billion years ago to the trees that survived Hiroshima. The clock face of the painting and its accompanying diagram prompts the viewer to consider geological time in terms of our daily understanding of time. Each day, Paterson suggests, represents a singular tick of the geological clock.
Other works include ‘To Burn, Forest, Fire’, which uses incense to help the viewer scent Earth’s first and last forests, while ‘The Moment’ uses an hourglass filled with stardust to visualise further the ticking of the geological clock. The greatest success of the exhibition is its ability to attend to a huge scope of history and make it accessible and consumable to an eager audience. However, this does not diminish its melancholy; as Paterson notes: ‘It is an elegy to a disappearing world. A lament.’