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Ladders of Light, a new constitution for the UK

On Friday, 8 February 2019 the Cathedral formally launched their installation,

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Ladders of Light, a new constitution for the UK

Posted By : Marie Thomas Wednesday 6th February 2019

On Friday, 8 February 2019 the Cathedral formally launched their installation, Ladders of Light: a new constitution for the UK, an artistic response to Brexit. Ladders of Light is the work of two artists: award-winning poet and broadcaster Lemn Sissay MBE and visual artist Mary Branson. Both ask us, playfully at times, to explore different perspectives on today’s United Kingdom. Curated by the Cathedral’s Visual Arts Adviser Jacquiline Creswell, the work was commissioned by Sky Arts as part of their Art 50 initiative (further details below).

The Ladders of Light installation reflects the fact that the Cathedral is the custodian of a 1215 Magna Carta, one of only four remaining copies in the world and the foundation stone of the UK’s unwritten constitution as well as the inspiration behind many other constitutions. The Charter resulted from a conflict between the king and his barons. Today, the issues surrounding the European Union has divided communities, families and political parties alike.

In his poem, Magniloquent Cartilage, Lemn eschews political speak, focusing instead on our individual responsibilities to one another. He challenges us to view the world from an alternative perspective, to try something different. His constitutional demands are unexpected and surprising, built from within rather than driven by edicts.

Lemn’s poem is realised visually on the columns and walls of the Cathedral in a trail that takes the viewer around the Cathedral, whilst Mary’s compelling installation, a multitude of seemingly fragile, delicate, illuminated ladders reach up high to the upper gallery (or Triforium) of the Cathedral, and across the Nave. Inspired by ideas of social mobility, equality and generosity, Mary Branson’s work both mirrors the grandeur and aspirations inherent in the Cathedral’s Gothic architecture and speaks of the fragility of human society.

Poet Lemn Sissay MBE said:
“My poetic ‘charter’ demands simple but powerful actions of the reader. Deeds that shape a new attitude to the vulnerable in our society, looked-after children. Just as Clause 30 of the 1215 Magna Carta was the precursor to our current jury system and Clause 40 ensures there is no imprisonment without trial, my hope is that the actions laid out in my ‘charter’ will change minds and ways. Above all I hope that Clause 9 of my poetic charter will become a central tenet of our post-referendum society, whatever form it takes. That is, Government will be assessed above all on how it treats its child. The child in care.”

Artists Mary Branson said:
“As a child of the 70’s, I have enjoyed the benefits of growing up and working in an environment where I felt a close connection to our European neighbours. I wanted my son to have the same experience. I worry for his future and the younger generations, facing a very different setup in which they have had no voice. Whatever my personal vote, I’m a pragmatist. If we are to become a distinct Island again, then I to look to the people to create a just, equal and caring society.”

Curator Jacquiline Creswell, the Cathedral’s Visual Arts Adviser, said:
“There is a tension between the two elements of this exhibition which in many ways reflects the state of our country today. Lemn Sissay’s poem focuses on the person and the individual. He asks that we change ourselves first and government afterwards. Mary’s response is more direct and unequivocal. A bold representation of a society that empowers and connects, enabling all to flourish and succeed. The ladders which are made of light are a metaphor for hope and aspiration, for movement both up and down, crossing divides, overcoming barriers and laying a pathway to a more just society whatever Brexit may bring.”

Ladders of Light is the first of a series of artistic interpretations commissioned by Sky Arts for their Art 50 project, a response to the invocation of Article 50, which triggered the Brexit process. Launched in March 2017, fifty artists from all disciplines were commissioned to create work exploring the question of who we, the British, are as a people - as a nation. Their work is to be featured in a week of programming on Sky Arts made by Storyvault Films, and in two Art 50 festivals - at the Barbican on 23rd February 2019 and the Sage and Baltic, Gateshead on 23rd and 24th February 2019

Danielle Graham, Executive Producer at Storyvault Films said: 

“Storyvault Films has taken an amazing journey with a fantastic and diverse group of individuals and organisations. The result is a fascinating picture of Britain and British life, seen through the eyes of writers, musicians, artists, dancers, poets and many other creative people.

“It’s been a pleasure working with Sky Arts and partners the Barbican, Sage and BALTIC on such an inspiring arts initiative and I believe it will give everyone a chance to reflect on how they feel in the run up to one of the most significant events in recent history”

Ladders of Light, a new constitution for the UK can be seen in Salisbury Cathedral until 3 April and a copy of Lemn Sissay’s poem will be placed in the Cathedral archive. Programmes made by Storyvault for the Sky Arts’ initiative - Art 50: This is Britain - begin transmitting on 25th March 2019. Details are below:

Monday 25th March (1 hour)
9pm:  Art 50:  The Sound of Britain
Focusing on the music and dance projects that made it through the commissioning process, viewers will see British composer Nitin Sawhney unveil a new national anthem as well as celebrated hip hop dance company Boy Blue exploring how young people feel about Britain right now, plus a project that brings choirs together.

Tuesday 26th March (1 hour)
9pm:  Art 50: A Picture of Britain
Exploring the visual art projects we hear from Welsh artist Rosie Scribblah who unveils her design for a new Union Jack that recognises Wales this time.  We see painter Sarah Maple exploring Britain’s colonial past and ceramicist Conor Coulston recreating his nan’s fireplace and the memories that evokes; and a Bristol street that has been transformed with a unique set of artworks.

Wednesday 27th March (1 hour)
9pm:  Art 50:  Britain on Film
A talented group of filmmakers each with a very different take on the brief.  We explore everything from post-Brexit racial tensions, to capturing peculiar British obsessions.  A drama set in the modern day equivalent of the coal mine – an online distribution centre - sits alongside an animation showing a group of dogs discussing what it means to be British down their local!

Thursday 28th March (2 hours)
9pm:  Art 50:  The Voice of Britain
This final two-hour programme features the work of the writers, the poets and the playwrights whose ideas excited the judges.  National treasures such as John Godber are featured with his new play Scary Bikers, a black comedy about a Brexiteer and a Remainer thrown together after bereavement.  Britain’s best loved living poets are also involved, with Lemn Sissay sharing a new constitution for the UK and Simon Armitage unveiling an epic poem focussing on British attitudes to our European neighbours.  There’s also work from new playwrights with one’s view from a Northern Irish loyalist to another’s darkly comic tale exploring the Cornish fear and resentment towards outsiders.  Young poets are also featured and teamed with young animators to help paint the picture of life in five corners of Britain, plus four writers have written postcards from the future for each of their countries.

For further information regarding Ladders of Light, a new constitution for the UK, please contact Marie Thomas by email: or direct line: 01722 555148

Any enquiries regarding Art 50, please contact Victoria Etaghene, Senior PR Manager Sky UK on or  07824 824 534 or for Storyvault Films, Kerry Milliken/Eye PR on 0203 780 4641, or 07799 714006