Katie Paterson

Vatnajökull (the sound of) 2007–08

Paterson connected a telephone line to an underwater microphone near the Vatnajökull glacier in Iceland which recorded the sound of the glacier melting.

This installation was both site-specific; the glacier occupies a single specific place and cannot be moved to another, and time-bound; the glacier will eventually completely melt and cease to exist.

There is no longer any audio on Paterson’s website, but a recording is available at the following link at time of writing. The sound is reminiscent of corn popping in a pan, with a lot of reverb added:


(Accessed 23/12/19)

Paterson originally exhibited a phone, with the mobile phone number of the glacier displayed as a neon sign above it, and visitors could call the number. In fact anyone could call the number from any phone, and only one caller could connect at any one time. She has subsequently exhibited the work as a retrospective piece: I’ve made a special archive for PKM, with the neon sign of the phone number, photographs of the place and a book which lists the 10,000 phone-numbers that called. When I was compiling the book, I was astonished to find that people from far-reached places like Samoa were calling.


(Accessed 07/01/20)

Paterson’s work deals a lot with cosmology and geology and time. It is conceptual, designed to make the viewer think about the idea of the piece. Medium is clearly secondary to concept.

Those I found most interesting are the fascinating ‘Fossil Necklace’ (2013), which comprises spherical beads of identical size made from fossilised matter from all around the world, arranged in chronological order from the Pre-Cambrian period 4,570m years ago to the present Holocene, and the quirky ‘Second Moon’ (2013-14) which is a packing crate containing a piece of moon rock, shipped by airfreight all around the world for one year- sent on a man-made orbit. The position of the rock was tracked and charted against ‘user’s location’ and that of the moon and other planets in our solar system.

Patterson has also created a work that adults alive today will never see completed. In ‘Future Library’ (2014-2114) she has planted a forest in Norway, the trees of which will provide the paper for books to be published in the year 2114. Each year between 2014 and then a writer will contribute a text to be included, which will not be read until then. This, like Longplayer, directs the viewer to thoughts of the future.

Another clever piece is a lifelong project called ‘Ideas’ (2015 – ). This is simply a book with short statements that feed the imagination. The viewer is the medium.

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