The Secret Life of Ely Cathedral

The Challenges of Site Specific Artworks

Several artists have made site specific pieces for the exhibition. Here are three of their stories.

One of the OuseLife artists, Cary Outis, gave himself the most difficult task he could think of, embarking on a five metre high sculpture in steel, to explore and express how it might feel to build something impossibly big... like a Cathedral. Teetering on a stepladder he'd had to make specially, he bolted the piece together from seven sections (transportation being another challenge!). Unfortunately, as you'll recall, we've had some strong winds recently, and the whole thing went over. There followed a number of adjustments until finally a stable and dizzying tower successfully blocked the driveway outside his workshop. It will be sited in the Nave of Ely Cathedral during the exhibition.

Kimberley Allen decided to create a panel over the Prior's Door to show how the Christ in Majesty Tympanum may have looked in Medieval times. She enlisted the help of Pete Hotine, the Cathedral carpenter, to trim her wood panel but the astonishing lack of symmetry in the archway meant that getting a snug fit turned out to be hours of work. Pete had to go up and down a ladder countless times with a heavy piece of plywood and after each new measurement, rest it on a pew to cut and refine the shape using traditional hand tools. As if this was not enough, once Kimberley had completed her painting, she brought it back to check it all fitted and once again Pete was up and down that ladder. Fortunately, despite the farcical nature of the task, Pete remained remarkably good humoured. The fit was great and the painting looks as if it really belongs there!

Jane Frost wanted to create a large mobile made of willow trees with the bark stripped off which makes them almost white and suspend it in the Octagon of the Cathedral to show the movement of air in the Cathedral. Much to her delight, Chapter approved her proposal which left Jane with the challenge of being able to realise it! This has been achieved with support from the Cathedral's very helpful Director of Works, Vicki Roulinson, and Director of Operations and Sacrist, Chris Flatman, together with Tim Frost and Andrew Jones who have the skills to solve the engineering problems. The final design and all the problems were solved after six months of conversations, technical drawings and meetings that included measuring, weighing, hauling and balancing long stripped willow trees in the Octagon and in the Bishop's garden. The choreography of installing and raising the mobile will take place and everyone will be able to see the movement of air in Ely Cathedral on April 6th.

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