After the Fall Exhibition

April 27th to May 29th 2022
In Ely Cathedral

In May 2022, OuseLife held a third large exhibition at Ely Cathedral.

After the Fall took as its setting off point the catastrophic collapse of the central tower 700 years ago, which led to the extraordinary creation of the Octagon.

Over a hundred pieces of work were on show, with several offered for sale. They explored the building’s regeneration, its beauty and power, the lives of those who made it and those who dedicate their working lives to it today. This was arguably our most stunning show to date!

This exhibition was planned just as COVID arrived. It holds reverberations of those two years, in subject matter and approach. In our previous show (The Secret Life of Ely Cathedral, 2016) we focussed on people currently involved with the great edifice, while this offering is more to do with the structure itself.

We’ve meditated in paint, clay, steel and fabric on the near impossibility of the making and remaking of the place, and what it may have been like to have been part of the stupendous enterprise.

It raises the question of whether belief is in itself a sufficient driving force , or is there perhaps a longing to leave lasting evidence of skill and imagination ?  Is a modest wage enough to  cause you to commit perhaps decades of your life to the slow generation of such a bastion against other world views and beliefs?

Everyone in Ely catches a glimpse of the Cathedral most days. People from 900 years ago look across at us from the stones they placed. Did they crave another afterlife than the one offered by their religion?

There is an almost incalculable quantity of labour sitting inside those stones. The tower and Octagon alone weigh more than 400 tonnes.

‘The lantern is constructed around eight vertical oak posts, each 19.2m high and 508mm x 813mm in section, and weighing 10.2 tonnes. The timber is thought to have come from 20 oak trees purchased from Chicksands Priory in Shefford, Bedfordshire. They had to be hoisted more than 30m to be fixed in position.’ (Engineering –

So, at least 47 miles travelled with twenty 35 foot , five ton logs. The carpentry took 14 years.

The vast space is full of mementos; Green Men, gargoyles, graffiti, and we’ve responded to that. There remain graffiti, and scraps of inventory and invoice records, even a love letter. All have been reworked and recreated. There’s damage and loss- the highly decorated and painted interior, the chipped off faces of saints and bishops, when new regimes and religious politics made clumsy destruction of art and skill permissible; we’ve considered these too.

But beneath all that is the evidence of what can emerge from disaster. The unique Octagon, impossibly heavy, hanging like eight long feathers in the air. Put in place with ropes, pulleys, hands and oxen.

And for us, weeks and months of making seem only to have slightly scratched the surface.