Requiem tells of the birth and life of our planet in a single object – an object that uses dust gathered from material dating from pre-solar times to those of the present.

A large glass urn, the ancient form of funerary vessel, sits at the centre of the gallery. Around the walls a long shelf holds a series of small glass vials, 364 of them in all, each containing a tablespoon of dust. Each is a layer of time waiting to be poured into the urn by members of the public, and by invited guests.

The dust has been obtained through collaboration with institutions and collections worldwide, and collectively, the vials map the story of the Earth from before its existence to the present day, and offer a lament for the planet, a warning, a requiem on the theme of extinction.

The pouring will begin with a layer pre-solar dust from the oldest of meteorites, stretching back across the furthest distances of time and place, then the asteroid Vesta, a reminder of our planet’s origin still visible as the brightest asteroid in the night sky. There follows a slow unfurling of planetary history, from the oldest earthly rock formation of the 4.5-billion-year-old Pre-Cambrian era to the first creatures to open their eyes, the first flowers to flower, the first skeletal structures and the slow emergence of humanity’s antecedents from ocean to land. There are the crushed-to-dust remnants of our most archaic ancestors, from the earliest hunter-gatherers of Doggerland, through cultures and epochs long gone – Phoenician, Bactrian, Inca, Hellenistic, Roman, Pre-Columbian, Viking – each pouring of dust taking us layer by layer through the origins of everything, and the extinction of so much that is left in our wake.

Requiem is commissioned by the National Glass Centre, Sunderland Culture, and Ingleby Gallery. 

Read text by Jan Zalasiewicz, Emeritus Professor of Palaeobiology

Requiem was on view at Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh
9 April – 11 June, 2022