Sluice – Ely, England - Atlas Obscura


This striking steel sculpture transforms environmental data into art. 


Monitors at the base of this brightly-lit sluice-gate sculpture display scenes and sounds of increasingly turbulent waters, depending on the current water levels in Eastern England’s precariously low lying Fens.

Since its inception in 2007, this permanent public art installation on the Isle of Ely has stood by a channel carrying the waters of the River Great Ouse across the reclaimed marshlands called “The Fens.” It’s a symbolic site for such a piece of art as, although the Isle of Ely is no longer a true island, it was once entirely surrounded by wetlands, which could swiftly return if water management of this low-lying river system were to be halted, or if sea levels were to rise above their current level.

Standing over nine feet tall, this stainless steel beacon mimics the shape of a sluice gate, a symbol of humanity’s management of flowing water. Created by artist Lulu Quinn, Sluice receives live data from the Denver Sluice Complex 17 miles away. This vital, centuries-old sluice gate complex protects 1,500 square miles of valuable farmland from inundation.

The sculpture responds to this live data stream by playing appropriately gentle or turbulent watery sounds every 15 minutes, altering the colors of its vibrant lights, and playing movies of serenely burbling or disconcertingly pounding waters depending on the height of the water level.

Since its unveiling in 2007, the sculpture has divided opinion locally—complaints have called it costly, noisy, and brightly lit—earning many detractors, despite being significantly smaller than originally planned due to an increase in the cost of steel.

Know Before You Go

Sluice is a short and pleasant riverside walk from Ely train station, which has regular services to Cambridge, London, Norwich, and Peterborough. There is free parking with level access at the nearby Ship Lane car park.

It is located on the side of the river close to the Riverside Bar and Kitchen Restaurant.

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