Salisbury Cathedral celebrates 800 years with virtual art exhibition

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Salisbury Cathedral celebrates 800 years with virtual art exhibition
Large Reclining Figure by Henry Moore. Photo by BNPS Zachary Culpin.

SALISBURY.- Salisbury Cathedral opens a virtual version of Celebrating 800 years of Spirit and Endeavour, its largest contemporary art exhibition for nearly two decades.

The virtual exhibition launches eight centuries to the day after the first foundation stones of this magnificent building were laid and just over a month after the real-life launch was halted by the COVID-19 lockdown.

In the nick of time, Patrick Price from Heads Above The Cloud was called in to scan the entire exhibition, inside and out, before the Cathedral closed. Since then curator Jacquiline Creswell has been working with the Cathedral team to launch an interactive virtual tour of the exhibition. The catalogue is also available online.

Three years in the planning, Celebrating 800 years of Spirit and Endeavour brings together work from some of the most important and influential contemporary artists of the 20th and 21st century, including Antony Gormley, Shirazeh Houshiary, Henry Moore, Grayson Perry, Conrad Shawcross, Stanza and Mark Wallinger. It was a significant commitment on the part of the Cathedral for its anniversary year, so lockdown was a bitter blow but one they were determined to overcome.

Jacquiline Creswell, Salisbury Cathedral’s Visual Arts Adviser and curator said:
“It does strike me as profound that commemorating the placing of a stone 800 years ago, something so physical and monumental at the time, is now taking place on a virtual, online platform – something the original Cathedral builders could not have imagined. The exhibition was conceived as a celebration of the human spirit and human endeavour, manifested through the faith and skill that drove the Cathedral builders and their community on. That shared humanity and capacity to create and endure holds today and, whether online and offline, I hope this exhibition encourages viewers to look forward with hope.”

The actual exhibition Celebrating 800 years of Spirit and Endeavor was originally part of Salisbury 2020 City on the move, a year of events and activities planned to celebrate the Cathedral’s move from Old Sarum and its foundation on the present site. Sadly, many of those events have had to be deferred or cancelled but plans are underway to move some of that activity online.

The move from Old Sarum was politically, logistically, commercially and spiritually audacious, made in defiance of the king’s soldiers garrisoned at Old Sarum, with a construction plan that would challenge even modern, technologically advanced builders. The main body of the Cathedral was completed in just 38 years, and within a few decades the city around it had become one of the most influential and populous in the country.

Jacquiline Creswell’s first challenge was to mount an exhibition that embodies the spirit, ambition, faith and endeavour that brought about that move and the construction of this magnificent Cathedral. Her second was to imbue the online exhibition tour with as much of the awe and wonder that the original exhibition evokes.

Dr Robert Titley, Salisbury Cathedral’s Canon Treasurer and Chair of the Cathedral’s Arts Advisory Committee said:

“Christianity is a religion of redemption and salvation. We planned this exhibition to celebrate a landmark birthday for our Cathedral and city but the coronavirus overtook us. Now – thanks to this virtual realisation - the exhibition lives anew, to bring hope and delight in a time of trouble, passing through the closed doors of isolation and lockdown. It’s a sign of what is possible when the Spirit of God fuels human endeavour.”

The virtual tour consists of two parts:

• The external tour created using ‘panorama’ technology with click-through thumbnail links that take the viewer to the relevant catalogue page and offer an opportunity to watch 360 videos of each piece

• The internal exhibition which allows the visitors enter the Cathedral virtually, watch a video introduction from Jacquiline Creswell, the curator, and navigate their way around the Cathedral using thumbnails of each work with links to the relevant catalogue pages. Viewers can also explore the virtual space, enjoying the context in which the art is set.

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