New sculptures at Exeter Cathedral to reflect hope, resilience and new beginnings

Four huge sculptures will float in the air above visitors to Exeter Cathedral. The human-like forms will reflect themes of hope, resilience and new beginnings.

The sculptures are part of a project by Devon-based artist Martin Staniforth (known as Morth) which begins in June. The project includes sculptures inside and outside the Cathedral, a contemporary dance event, creative wellbeing workshops and a community-crafted ‘Tree of Hope’ sculpture.

Four sculptures will appear to float in the air; life-size echoes of human figures emerging from woven willow structures with gentle cotton drapes suggesting movement.

On the ground, there will be a 6m high woven willow structure which might appear to be falling down or growing up, depending on how the viewer interprets it; perhaps a meteorite falling to earth or a bulb shooting sprouting up from the ground. The title ‘Scension’ refers to this ambiguity of ascension or descension.

Martin Staniforth said:
“This project is inspired by the idea that an ending can also be a beginning. Tragedy is part of the circle of life. Things go wrong but the sun always rises tomorrow. When something comes to a close, this creates time and space for something new to emerge .

“I first began thinking about this idea as a teenager walking around London, photographing the statues. They were all male and looked very cold, stoic and proud. I thought that surely there were ways to reflect other sides of humanity, acknowledging frailty and vulnerability.”

Scension Dance Day
During a day of dance, six community dance groups and a professional dance company will perform amongst the sculptures to music composed specially by Fionn Connolly. Choreographer Daisy Harrison will work with the groups in the lead up to the performances in July. 

Tree of Hope
During the exhibition, visitors to the Cathedral are invited to contribute to a community sculpture by writing memories of the past and hopes for the future onto paper leaves. These will hang on the Tree of Hope, which aims to help people to build hope for the future. Contributions might respond to loss or loneliness due to Covid-19, or to climate change and sustainability issues.

Outside the Cathedral will be a sculpture created using timbers burnt during the fire at the Royal Clarence Hotel in 2016. The burnt timbers first found a new life when Martin incorporated them in a sculpture in 2017.

Martin said:
“The burnt timbers were going to be thrown away, but they still had life inside them. I used them to create ‘Hope & Renewal’ in 2017, and now I’m ‘re-reusing them’, reflecting the idea that an ending can be a beginning. I’ve sealed the loose, black, scaly surface of the timbers however, in time, the crevices would form a foundation for tiny plants to grow.”

The new sculpture dramatises the movement from the horizontal to the vertical, as if the material is rising again and heralding a new future.

Creative Wellbeing Workshops
As part of the project’s aim to promote wellbeing and social cohesion, a series of workshops will be held in partnership with Headway Devon and United Response.

Artist facilitators will work with participants to reflect on life, express their hopes and notice where they can find sources of strength and inspiration. 

Martin said:
“These workshops will explore the concept that an ending can be a beginning. After set-backs, many of us continue to carry around our inner anxieties, our pain, our concerns. Art can help us to access those inner feelings, to process and normalise them. Through these workshops, we aim to help people realise they’re not alone and that their voices are important.”

The project is funded by the Network For Social Change , Creative Beings CIC and Arts Council England.

‘Scension’ and ‘Resurgo’ will be at Exeter Cathedral from 12 June to 30 August, during Density and Lightness, an exhibition by South West Sculptors.


For more information
Gillian Taylor 07761 546075

Notes for Editors

Martin Staniforth (Morth) 
Based in East Devon, Martin is chair of the South West Sculptors. In 2020, he attracted funding from both the Network For Social Change and Arts Council England for Resurgo / Scension.

In 2017, Martin  co-founded Creative Beings CIC, a social enterprise that helps to cultivate creative practices for wellbeing. Creative Beings runs courses and events that help people to find the time and space to notice the process rather than get fixated by pressure to produce a ‘final’ output.  

Also in 2017, Martin received funding support from the Devon Community Foundation for an integrated ‘Hope & Renewal’ arts project including sculpture installation, community workshops and a national photographic competition. The 4-metre high sculpture was awarded the top prize at the TRAIL outdoor exhibition.

‘Density & Lightness’ exhibition from South West Sculptors
‘Density & Lightness’ will feature 75 sculptures from 24 artists, inside and outside Exeter Cathedral, from 12 June to 30 August. The diverse exhibits will include pieces made from stone, wood, ceramic, bronze, plaster and glass. Careful curation and juxtapositioning will highlight links between these guest sculptures and the Cathedral’s own permanent works.

South West Sculptors exist to showcase the work of skilled sculptors practicing with diverse materials in Devon, Cornwall, Dorset and Somerset. Formed in 2000, they are an informal and supportive group, embracing both emerging and established artists with a passion for sculpting. Their members include internationally-known sculptors and those who have: 
• displayed at the Mall Gallery, London and the Royal Academy, London
• exhibited at The Society of Portrait Sculptors’ annual exhibition
• received commissions for public artworks from local hospitals and international universities
• tutored at international conferences and workshops from Devon to Changzhou, China
• been elected as Royal Academicians
• regularly instructed plastic surgeons in 3-D language

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