First Light at Lincoln Cathedral

In 2010 Martin Griffiths embarked on a major commission for Lincoln Cathedral which opened in Spring 2011 and has travelled thereafter. We felt it would be interesting to present the project in diary form as it developed, through conception and production to installation and exhibition. You can read Martin's fascinating original proposal here. Here follow Martin's most recent diary entries.

Access the earlier diary entries that have been posted as the project has taken shape here.

This project is made possible with the generous assistance of the Arts Council.


Installation image of First Light at Lincoln Cathedral, Spring 2011. Image by Richard Deveraux


Installation image of First Light at Lincoln Cathedral, Spring 2011. Image by Richard Deveraux

Cathedral Installation – finalising the dimensions (August – October).

During the making of the photomontage, coloured pencil drawings passed through several revisions. A full-scale two-dimensional collage comprising coloured papers was then attached to a large white workshop screen and further proportional adjustments were made.


Sequence of 7 arch-framed portals with horizontal lights facing a centrally located vertical light-line rising from tall stand.

Central Work
Concurrently, drawings for this work passed through a similar process of revision before a set of full-scale front-face models of white card attached to concealed wooden supports were made, in addition to a full-scale base assembled from large flat white panels which could be proportionally adjusted.

Cathedral Visits
Using partial/complete models, visits were made to the Cathedral to crosscheck all proportional relationships between the central white work, the coloured portals, and the architecture and space of the Cloister. These were short visits made in the first phase on September 6th, 13th and 18th. After receiving an inspiration in meditation on Sunday, September19th, to select the width of 107mm for the central work, a second phase of visits followed on September 25th and 27th, and on October 2nd, 4th and 11th. On this last day the light-line colour for the portals was selected. The final dimensions for the central work were faxed to Barry Goillau at Benson Sedgwick and the final portal dimensions were delivered to Gary Scott, both on October 11th.


Engineering drawing by Tom Carter for central Cloister work

Two corresponding experiences: On October 17th, listening to Bruckner’s 7th Symphony, I found that in the closing bars the energy in the music ascended to the crown and then above this, a natural space opened up to reveal an inner space within another dimension. This confirmed to me that the space element is connected to the ‘crown’ of the head. I recalled that when a full-scale model of the central work with a 103mm width was set up on the Cloister lawn, an ‘energy void’ with a radius of several inches formed in the space around it, which prevented it from connecting with the surrounding space. The void closed when the dimension was changed on September 25th to 107mm – the measurement indicated in meditation.


Engineering drawing by Tom Carter for central Cloister work

Surveyors’ Visits to the Cloister, October 27th and November 3rd

These surveys determined the levels of the medieval floor tiles of the seven central arcade bays and the levels of the adjacent column capitals. In each bay, two sets of five readings were taken corresponding to the exact positions of the two sets of five levellers which will support each portal vertical. The zero datum of 0.0mm (reference for all readings for the portal verticals) was the far left corner leveller position of the left vertical of the fourth, central portal. The zero datum for the seven pairs of references for the capital levels was the right-hand front corner of the fourth capital.


Chris Smith and Dan Christie surveying the Cloister arcading

As the portal structures will have to stand perfectly vertically, the levellers will have to accommodate all variations in floor tile levels. From the zero datum of 0.0mm of the rear left reference of the fourth portal left vertical, the other four readings included: +4, +5, +10, +11. And for the right vertical of the same portal, the readings were +3, +5, +6, +15, and +15. In each bay there were individual variations, and from the fourth portal back to the first one on the west side, the greatest variation was from 0.0 to -28 along the front row, and from the central portal to the seventh portal on the east side, the greatest variation was from 0.0 to +27. Around the bases of all verticals there will be adjustable narrow sleeves of varying heights, the tops of which will be set at identical height.

The levellers are to ensure that all verticals will be set at 0 degrees and that the horizontal light-lines, with a tolerance of 1mm, will be set at 90 degrees. The experience of the seven light-lines will be 100% dependent upon all seven light-lines being perfectly level. If the height of one pair of levellers is out by just 1mm the vertical rising above will slant at an angle of 1.6 degrees.

Cloister Visit, December 20th

Trials to select the final portal colours from seven blues and three purples.

A partial portal model was set up in one of the arcade bays which could support panels prepared with trial colours. As a light, partial powdering of snow was covering the Cloister lawn, black non-reflective boards were placed on the grass in front of the blue panels to prevent them from absorbing light reflections from the snow.

The colour values of the light-line, purple lintel and blue verticals had to be crosschecked with the arcade pillars to ensure that all values corresponded in hue, tone, temperature and saturation.

What was so surprising was that when the blues were compared against the purples and yellow-orange light-line, the darker blues, which I had originally preferred, were found to give a heavy dense vibration on the body at the level of the solar plexus. The blues tending to red all gave a heavier vibration than those tending to green, and the blue which gave the best vibration was a mid-tone blue tending towards green which gave positive uplift. To my surprise, my selection had moved from an aesthetic optical evaluation to a subtle evaluation drawn towards inner experiences of weightlessness, openness, airiness and uplift. In the final installation, the effect of the coloured portal verticals will therefore arise not from the optical sensation of the colour-tone on the eye but specifically from the vibration of the hue on the body. These observations upon colour have a direct correspondence with only one other reference – my experiences of stacked colours in some works by Rothko from 1949 - 69. The colour values of these works give a multitude of delicately varying subtle experiences, including the absolute polarities of grounded weight and luminous ascension.

December 2010 – February 2011 Portals, final preparations

On December 16th, the 14 portal verticals and 7 lintels were scheduled to be transported from Gary Scott’s workshop in Old Wood North, Skellingthorpe, near Lincoln, to Derek Chapman’s paint spraying workshop at Alford near the east Lincolnshire coast. An early heavy fall of snow had affected driving conditions so severely that the decision was made to delay the shipment until the roads were clear. The delivery of the portals was finally made on December 21st.

All external surfaces of each vertical had to be spray-painted in one continuous application, so it was necessary to suspend them from internally fitted wooden supports, resting on one vertical clamp at each end. As the portals were composed of wood and plywood, the decision was taken to firstly seal and then ‘stop out’ the wood with a primer and then prime in successive layers and electrically sand down each layer in turn until the surfaces were completely uniform. In some instances three or four layers of primer were used. Over these, three layers of blue spray-paint were applied. In the early stages during January there was much re-working and revising of procedures, but eventually an effective working process of surfacing and painting was achieved. After the portal verticals had been completed on February 5th, the lintels were prepared and spray-painted in the same way and were completed by February 12th. By the time the lintels had been finished, the sleeves which would surround the vertical bases had been made by Gary and were delivered for painting. These were completed on February 19th.

After several verticals had been set up in my own workshop, I stood and contemplated the colour of one of them and experienced a continuous stream of pacifying energy emanating from the blue colour.


Derek Chapman putting the final touches to the portal verticals.

February 22nd – 28th The Installations

Arrangements had been made with John Campbell, the Dean’s Verger of Lincoln Cathedral, to start the delivery and installation of the portals on February 22nd at 1.15 pm. This part of the installation process was supported by Gary Scott, artists Richard Devereux and Kevin Maddison, surveyor Chris Smith and the Cathedral’s Works Department, and would continue until February 25th.

The challenge we faced involved marrying together adaptability with extreme precision. The main aim of the portal installation was to support seven lines of brilliant yellow-orange light emanating from acrylic panels which would surmount each of the portal structures. The floor, an ancient stone floor, varied in height across the span of the installation by 59mm. The top of each of the 24 sleeves had to be pitched at exactly the same height. In all, 70 levellers disguised within the base of each vertical had to be levelled at 29 different millimetre settings.

As neither the front step towards the lawn nor the line of pillars was absolutely straight, taut string at floor-level was secured by engineering bricks resting on card at each end of the installation site, establishing a line indicating a mean average between the lines of the step and pillars. A further length of aerial string was stretched from the second to ninth pillars to provide a further reference. Firstly the engineering brick compartments were sited and levelled with surveying recommendations from Chris Smith. Then the blue verticals were lowered one by one onto the compartments and the lintels with interior mirrors were attached to the verticals. Lastly, the acrylic light-giving panels were secured to the lintels without bolts, screws or glue, which would have compromised the light emitting from them. Final adjustments were made on February 25th. The experience had seemed equivalent in precision to landing a helicopter centrally on a sixpence – but it had worked! The tolerance of variation of the level of the light-line over the whole width of the installation was estimated at less than 0.5mm.

On Sunday, February 27th, at 2pm, Andrew and Tim Hewitt and three assistants from Artful Logistics, Canterbury, arrived to install the ‘I Am’ sculpture at The Collection in Lincoln. The evidence of their preparation, care, precision and sheer professionalism was inspirational. The task of installing this work seemed effortless, and when the wrappers were removed from the sculpture, it lit up dramatically sending a powerful burst of energy out into the surrounding space over a radius of ten feet.

On Monday, February 28th, at 7.30am the installers were parked in two transport vehicles outside the West Front of Lincoln Cathedral, ready to start unloading. It was raining. Work began and steadily continued until the specialised gantry and accessories were delivered to the Cloister. Then, later in the morning, following a Cathedral service, the two parts of the work were wheeled on a trolley through the great doors of the West Front, along the central aisle of the nave and north to the Cloister.


Entering the West Front

On the lawn the gantry was set up on a north-south axis, with its supports positioned on either sides of the sculpture base markers. Four metal plates were placed on the ground at each corner to support the base. The gantry was firstly used to rotate the sculpture stand into the vertical position and then to lower it onto the specified site. Small millimetre adjustments were made to the siting of the stand before the sculpture was lowered onto it by the gantry, and then further adjustments were made with additional metal plates to establish the perpendicular emphasis.


Lowering the central sculpture onto its stand

Once again, considerable care, patience and accuracy of judgement went into this process, and after numerous cross-checkings from a variety of viewpoints, a consensus was arrived at that the work was squarely positioned and centred. It made me recall something once said by the Welsh poet Vernon Watkins, ‘Cold craftsmanship is the best container of fire.’ This whole project had been, right up to the end, about a search for precision, a precision in relationships between form, space, colour and light.

By 4.30pm, the installation was complete and ready for the opening the following day, March 1st.


First Light On Tour at the Boston Stump. May 2011.

Following the First Light installation at Lincoln Cathedral Cloister in March, related works are now touring church and gallery venues in the region thanks to support from the 2011 East Midlands Cultural Olympiad festival Igniting Ambition. Since the end of April a site-specific version of one of the Cathedral works – the vertical white sculpture which was sited in the centre of the Cloister lawn – has been installed beneath the belltower of St. Botolph’s Church, Boston, which rises impressively above the Lincolnshire fenlands and is better known as the Boston Stump. The sculpture will remain in situ until May 28th.

The height of the belltower, one of the highest church towers in England, and crucially, the height of the windows within this space, presented an opportunity to install the tallest light sculpture so far, one which would be sufficiently tall to catch enough light for the work to illuminate. So during April this version of the sculpture was increased in height to 4.3m, and the width of the light panel in the side elevation was also increased to 500m. As soon as the whole sculpture was finally rotated into a vertical position on April 29th, I could see that it held the space successfully and that the ornate setting of the belltower immediately began to intensify the sculpture’s severe and stark simplicity. The golden-yellow light-line ascending from above head-height also had the intensity I’d been hoping for.


First Light at Boston Stump: image by Richard Deveraux

The inspiration for this sculpture had come from a piece of music – The Protecting Veil by contemporary composer Sir John Tavener, who claims descent from a 16th century composer called John Taverner. The ascending movements of sound in Tavener’s instrumentally restrained composition have a powerful influence on the vertical subtle axis of the body. I listened to a recording of this work in March 2005. After the music had finished, out of the silence, I experienced a one metre-high, narrow, vertical line of white light rising from above the crown of the head.

Last year I visited the Boston Stump to discuss a proposal to site this sculpture – now called ‘After Tavener’ – in the belltower, and I was amazed to discover that just three feet from the proposed site was the inlaid gravestone of ‘John Taverner, musician – died 1545,’ ancestor of the contemporary composer.

An opportunity arose earlier this year for a concert celebrating the music of both composers – ‘Tavener in the Fens’ – to take place at the Boston Stump on May 8th, in conjunction with the sculpture installation. Northamptonshire-based choir Fiori Musicali, directed by Penelope Rapson, and international cellist Alfia Napibekova gave flawless and uplifting performances perfectly attuned to the fantastic acoustics of St Botolph’s of works such as Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, Song for Athene and Svyati, amongst others. It was an evening defined by the timeless ascension of sound and light, issuing directly and indirectly from the wishes of two outstanding English composers.

The Igniting Ambition festival, of which this concert was part, is a Cultural Olympiad programme in the East Midlands which invests in projects and people that take the London 2012 Games as their inspiration to create once-in-a-lifetime cultural opportunities for audiences and communities. The First Light On Tour project gratefully acknowledges the support of Igniting Ambition, which is funded by Legacy Trust UK, an independent charity set up to create a cultural and sporting legacy from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the European Regional Development Fund and the East Midlands Development Agency, with the support of Arts Council England and many others.

First Light installations in nature, June and July 2011

Following the architectural installations at Lincoln and Boston, First Light On Tour has branched out for the summer into more natural settings. ‘Solar 1,’ a prototype for sculptures shown at Lincoln, was installed through June in the grounds of All Saints’ Church, Nocton, a site surrounded by gently undulating Lincolnshire fields and dense woodlands.


First Light at Nocton: image by Richard Deveraux

With the light of the high summer sun flowing through the work, the vertical golden-yellow light-line coursing the central axis of the sculpture was at its most intense, at times more dazzling than I’d seen it before. People walking by would come over to see it and would be surprised to discover that the light was sourced from the sun rather than by electricity.

Sunlight is channelled into the sculpture’s perpendicular line which releases a charge that resonates with the vertical subtle axis in our body. Through this we can experience a connection with the flow of the universe, a subtle connection which can give feelings of uplift, well-being and equilibrium – lightness.


First Light at Nocton (detail): image by Richard Deveraux

The artist/photographer Richard Devereux, who has been recording the installations on the tour, has produced images of Solar which are also a record of his own connection with the energy of nature and with these light works. It’s a connection which has elicited from each photographic opportunity a synchronicity of visible correspondences – images in which the tonal masses in the sky, the trees, the sculpture and the foreground all harmonise into a linear rhythm; or in which the direction of sunlight on the sculpture and the viewpoint of the photographer have momentarily converged to create a beautiful linear rhythm of tones pierced by an intense line of light.

In the second week of July, the sculpture was moved to another idyllic rural location, this time in Marshchapel, a village in the north of Lincolnshire not far from the coast. It was installed in the grounds of St. Mary’s Church, also known as ‘the Cathedral of the Marshes,’ where it was enveloped on three sides by mature beeches and limes.

Here the highly reflective polished surfaces of the sculpture merged with a setting that could hardly have been more natural. The work ‘surrendered itself’ to the site so successfully that from some viewpoints, its form all but vanished. And as the form dissolved into nature, the illuminated line increased in prominence. It was as though nature had turned itself inside out, revealing an internal stream of rising energy, visibly emerging from nature’s own body.


First Light at Nocton: image by Richard Deveraux

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