Over the last couple of weeks I have embarked on a new research project to inform my next body of work. All of the visits, conversations and reading that I am doing is surrounding the themes of faith, worship or ritual. I am really interested in the human thread, or essence that is common to many different spiritual practices, the timeless beliefs and stories that we all value. This research is also about finding new points of interest to dive deeper in to, which will culminate in the creation of new work later this year. This journey has begun with a visit to an ancient Cathedral and the home of a modern artist.
Visiting Ely Cathedral felt like stepping into a timeless capsule. Towering pillars, ornately painted, all steering towards a multicoloured, kaleidoscopic, light filled central turret. Carved stone, wood, metal, an elemental tribute to the unknown.
When I first arrived I didn't know that attached to the main Cathedral is a chapel, dedicated to Mary, mother of Christ. A smaller, but equally immense stone chamber, with windows on every wall filling the space with an intense lightness. During raids by rival religious sects, much of the original stained glass had been smashed alongside every statue of Mary, the only face remaining in the chapel, was a small carving of the pagan green man that the pillagers were afraid to destroy. On the one hand it did seem tragic that the prismatic effect of stained glass had been lost to replacement clear windows, however the resulting intensity of light seemed like a kind of sacrament too, just different to the vivid hues in the main Cathedral.
Whilst in their stained glass gallery, I was particularly drawn to a panel that featured the May Queen, in bright yellow and clear glass. Drowned in flowers and ribbons, she looks directly at you, from her panel that features a rites of spring festival, that is often forgotten in cities. From Etheldreda, queen and founder of Ely, to Mary and the May Queen, there was a lot of celebration of the feminine aspect, a celebration of creative force and energy, spring, life, change and growth.
The second visit within this trip was to Henry Moore's house, studios and gardens: another kind of Cathedral, but in honour of the natural world. The works came across as though they were in their natural habitat, like pebbles on a beach, at home and perfectly fitting. These immense forged structures seemed light, filled with air and a kind of life, that meant they also spoke to each other.
The forms seemed like giant bones, stones, trees and mountains, plucked and placed into these sweeping gardens and sheep-fields, to be seen and honoured like altars. I felt that he was showing us the things you normally have to hunt for: a witching stone on the beach, the unbroken shell, the oyster with a pearl.
On the grounds they had built a replica of one of his clear studios, like a greenhouse that could be made to size, so that he could work outside throughout the year, and the pieces could live in the outdoors throughout their lives. I love that, the idea of art needing to be birthed in its natural habitat, reminiscent of a basket weaver working by a reed bed or a potter by a stream.
These first visits seemed on the surface quite different, and yet felt very connected to each other. As I walked around the mighty stones that made up Ely Cathedral, who had absorbed the voices of generations, carved to perfection and worn by time and history, I wondered if they knew of their distant cousins sat in Moore's studio: pebbles and stones who were inspiring an equally beautiful expression of spirituality.
Thank you so much for reading this blogpost, I hope you enjoyed it. Over the coming weeks I will be making more visits and sharing them here and on instagram, so keep an eye out!