Douglas Gordon, The End of Civilisation, 2012

Douglas Gordon
The End of Civilisation, 2012 

"I wanted to do something with a piano in a landscape of some significance and I suppose, as a Scotsman, there's nothing more significant than the border. I thought it was beautiful to look from one country into another and I liked the idea that Hadrian's Wall is, under a certain interpretation, a great end of civilisation…  I was overwhelmed to be in a landscape of such beauty, and with such a huge unfathomable history."

Douglas Gordon

In The End of Civilisation, a grand piano burns at a remote site deep in the Cumbrian landscape. This lushly green and desolate locale overlooking the boundary between England and Scotland was once the border of the Roman Empire. The grand piano, emblematic of high culture as both a finely crafted instrument and a beautiful sculptural object, is destroyed at the primeval edge of civilisation. With this symbolic conflagration, Gordon re-enacts an ancient local tradition of igniting beacons as an admonition or communication. Inspired in part by the journey of the 2012 Olympic torch across the British Isles, The End of Civilisation is both a celebration and a warning -- of fire as a symbol of optimism and hope, but also of risk, danger, and destruction.

The film is shown on multiple screens and with layered sound. One screen is devoted to a close recording of the burning piano, from when it is first set alight to it being reduced to ashes. Another presents a panning shot of the tranquil surrounding landscape—occasionally, licks of flame or wisps of smoke invade the periphery of the screen, the only indication that the seemingly serene landscape is in close proximity to a raging fire.

The End of Civilisation was first screened on July 5, 2012 at the Tyne Theatre, on the site of Hadrian’s Wall in Newcastle upon Tyne City Centre as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.

The End of Civilisation is a Great North Run Culture and Locus+ True Spirit co-commission – work that explores the true spirit of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The film is also part of the London 2012 Festival, the spectacular 12-week nationwide celebration running from 21 June until 9 September 2012 bringing together leading artists from across the world with the very best from the UK. 

Free but ticketed – Thursday 5th July 7.30pm, Friday 6th July 2.30pm & 7.30pm

Tyne Theatre, 105-119 Westgate Road, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 4AG

Book tickets at 

Related Information

Douglas Gordon
Project Title:
The End of Civilisation