A Thousand Years is a vitrine created by British artist Damien Hirst in 1990. The artwork consists of a glass box that is divided into two compartments separated by a glass sheet filled with tiny holes. The larger compartment contains maggots, flies, and other insects feeding on a headless cow’s head while the smaller one houses an Insect-O-Cutor electric insect killer.
What makes A Thousand Years an exceptional artwork is how it synthesizes two central forces in Hirst’s artistic approach: creating visually successful displays and exploring the profundities of life and death. The work showcases how life transforms into death and vice-versa via decomposition and rebirth through insect infestation. The pierced glass plane suggests the idea that death can happen at any moment, as shown by the possibility of insects entering either compartment randomly.
The controversial artwork catalyzed Hirst’s career in the 1990s, earning him notoriety for his exploration of life’s darker themes such as decay, mortality, and violence. A Thousand Years has even caught Bacon’s attention before he died in 1992. Given Hirst’s growing fame throughout his career, this piece became one of his defining artworks that earned him many accolades in contemporary art history. Today, A Thousand Years remains to be one of the most powerful works from Hirst’s collection that has both fascinated and moved viewers over the years.