ECDC Commissions Lulu Quinn’s ‘Ely Sluice’

East Cambridgeshire District Council’s Planning Committee has today approved a landmark lighting project for Ely.
‘Sluice’ is a major artwork by Lulu Quinn, and has been commissioned by visual arts agency Commissions East. Utilising light and new technology, it will further enhance an important area of public space along the River Ouse by creating a new cultural attraction for visitors and residents to visit and admire by the Maltings.

The four-metre high steel sluice replica will project light images of water ebbing and flowing in synchronisation with the real river flow using data gathered from Norfolk’s Denver Sluice by the Environment Agency. There will also be actual sounds of water from speakers built into the structure as well as blue and white lighting to animate the artwork.


Alison Callaby, Team Leader – Town Centres at East Cambridgeshire District Council, said: ‘Sluice’ is a unique artwork commission for Ely’s riverside, highlighting as it does the link between water management and the physical environment.

‘Sluice’ is a unique artwork commission for Ely’s riverside, highlighting as it does the link between water management and the physical environment.

Alison Callaby, Team Leader – Town Centres at ECDC

‘The images on the screen will reflect the changing nature of the river as it passes through the Denver Sluice – sometimes it will be calm and reflective, at other times it will surge. The Planning Committee heard how the artwork had been developed in response to the site characteristics and in making their decision noted how interesting the concept behind ‘Sluice’ was and how it would provoke a different range of reactions from those visiting the river.’

The partnership promoting the work, drawn from both the locality and the arts community, will now be progressing the artwork to ensure it is erected ready for visitors to enjoy during the summer months.

Image: Ely Sluice

Money Well Spent?

So what do you think? Could the money have been better spent on a more traditional sculpture or is it something that will bring 1000s of people to Ely’s Waterside?

ECDC were very keen to stress that ‘No East Cambridgeshire District Council tax payers money is being used to fund this project -the Sluice Gate is jointly funded by the Arts Council (£97,500), Ely Perspective (£2,000) and East Cambridgeshire District Council through money specifically provided by developers to enhance the cultural offering in the city (£27,500).’

Lulu Quinn Describes ‘Sluice’

Image: Ely Sluice

Sluice is a permanent light installation for Ely Riverside that responds to live data from the Environment Agency on the water management systems in Ely and the surrounding area. The management of the Ouse is a fundamental part of Ely history and evolution. The work takes the theme of sluice gates with particular references to the Denver sluices and the sluice (and Lock) at Bottisham, which are a key element in the control of the water environment. The water flow at these points is monitored and data sent every fifteen minutes from the Denver sluices. Denver is also the meeting point, where salt water mixes with river water. The intention is to create an animated light installation that raises awareness of the river and it’s changing flow patterns to the general public. The work will consist of a nearly 4m high and 1.5m wide mirror finish stainless steel sluice gate located parallel to the River Ouse at Ely Riverside. The structure will have a clear identity as a sluice gate with a central screw with a hand wheel on the top, a reference to the historical manual control of the river system.

The moving image can be seen clearly from the entrance to Jubilee Gardens creating a visual link between the riverfront and the Cathedral.

The structure will contain moving illuminated images of water that changes every fifteen minutes depending on the actual river flow. This image can be seen on a large video screen made up of a series of individual Led lights in the lower part of the structure. The moving image can be viewable during the day and night creating a main focus on the site, which can be seen clearly from the entrance to Jubilee Gardens creating a visual link between the riverfront and the Cathedral. The moving illuminated images will contain a variety of high contrast images including; sluice gates opening and closing, water surging in and out, slow and reflective water images and a series of shifting water patterns created by changing flows on the actual river. The images will all be shot on the River Ouse and will provide the public with an in-depth detail view of the river movement which is often unseen or unnoticed. Actual sound of the water will also be heard through speakers built into the structure, this will be limited to the immediate area of the structure and is not intended to broadcast to a wide area, levels will be tested and set on site.

There will also be some additional blue and white Led lighting that serves to animated the actual sluice gate structure with an animated light sequence appearing to rotate around the central screw and top of the sluice structure, this would be visible from the train. While on ground level a flow of blue and white light ripples on the footpath creating an external movement of light. The amount of animation on these lights would be in correlation to the amount of movement on the water scenes. The presence of the work should be easily accessible providing light and ambient sound for all ages and disabilities. As the work is durational it is intended to provide the public with an ongoing interaction with the environment so that visitors will have the opportunity to view changes that will shift the energy levels from slow to fast throughout the day. The lighting element is intended to reflect on the changing movement of water creating at times a meditative quiet environment while at other times the structure holds shifting powerful surges of movement of light.

Image: Ely Sluice

About Lulu Quinn and Commissions East

Lulu Quinn is an artist whose main media is time and light. Most of her works are site specific, with each site informing the concept and choice of materials, depending on its relationship to the architecture, environment, community, viability, maintenance and budget.

Commissions East is the visual arts development agency for the East of England, providing an advisory and management service for commissioners, a programme of special projects addressing new areas of visual arts practice, and a range of services for artists.

2 replies
  1. Marc
    Marc says:

    *** The DENVER SLUICE ***

    … we too much take it for granted, it should be celebrated. Without the DS the salt sea would be part of freshwater rivers. Without this kind of civil engineering, much of east anglia would be.. awash.

    Let’s celebrate the work of those civil engineers and architects who have been before us and let’s celebrate by using the technology of our time. So a Big Up from me goes to artists like Lulu Quinn and Co. I salute you.

    And please look at the big picture:

    You know 4 million people and £250 billion assets are at risk with flooding

    Environment Agency has allocated £12 million flood defences over last 5 years in Norfolk alone

    DEFRA is to allocate £436 million for flood risk management in 2007/2008

    Civil engineering quietly working for the coming decades, unsung, taken for granted.

    Marc, Luton

  2. Anon
    Anon says:

    The ‘Sluice’ is not so much a waste of money (130K is a reasonable price for a large public sculpture) as a wasted opportunity. IMHO, it is not a very good work of art.

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