Once a Desert review @Chester Cathedral

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“Our cultural offering is poor” said a senior Chester figure at an event recently. An incredible statement given that city can attract world class art like Once a Desert. Created by artistic duo Heinrich and Palmer, whose previous work includes installations at London, Exeter, Hull and Lindisfarne castle, this event is a must see for the city. made possible by Arts Council England and by the Government’s cultural recovery funding.

With promotional images giving little away, expectation for this event was high and as soon as darkness fell visitors gathered in the nave to watch the 20 minute looped video projected onto a transparent 17.5 metre high cloth suspended from the vaulted ceiling of the building, with the atmosphere enhanced by atmospheric lighting. The show begins with a column of volcanic fire that forms upon the cloth, projected by technological magic, and suggesting the formation of the rock used to build the Cathedral. The title refers to the period 200 million years ago when this country was a desert found to the south of the Sahara.

Visitors are then taken on a journey as first the stone pillars are formed and then eventually the full Cathedral. Golden toned images are drawn as if by some giant invisible hand, before gradually fading and merging into the next scene. The hyper realistic imagery based on 3D scans eventually builds into a full model of the Cathedrals floorplan which grows, rotates and then takes flight into the virtual sky. The art gives us insights into the building’s architecture, craftsmanship and layout, at various points taking you beneath the floor and inside one of the pillars. Later scenes of nature based on the surroundings of the Cathedral form, a tree forms, perhaps echoing God’s creation before a virtual bell tower tolls. Ghostly outlines fade into each other as the full Cathedral precinct is revealed, before then fading away once again. The closing water effects are mesmerising, suggesting the non permanence of everything in our world, washed away by the tides of time. For a different view of the installation stand behind the cloth near the choir stalls.

“Once a Desert ” is a cleansing spiritual experience, the perfect union of art and location that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible. Its huge scale is like nothing seen in Chester before.

Thursday 10th March, 7.30-10pm (last admission 9.30pm)
Saturday 12th March, 6.30-10pm (last admission 9.30pm)


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