Numb legs and twerking: Gallery Director buried up to neck in gravel at freezing Derby quarry for art show

By Ben Miller | 19 February 2016

A rainy day at a quarry in Derby presented the perfect opportunity for Backlit's Director to submerge himself - only to be accused of faking it

A photo of artist Matthew Chesney up to his neck in gravel at a Derby quarry as part of a Backlit Nottingham gallery exhibition
Matthew Chesney up to his neck in the name of art© Backlit
Matthew Chesney, the Director of Nottingham’s Backlit Gallery, spent an hour buried up to his neck in gravel from the River Trent at Shardlow quarry in Derby last month. His vision – an absurdist artwork in the manner of a Samuel Beckett play – seems certain to have come true, but it’s also his contribution to Mass, a new exhibition at the gallery referring to notions of both materiality and the spiritual sense of art uniting people.

“When they see the film, many people assume that it’s a created or manipulated image,” says Chesney, whose title for the work, The Curator is Stuck, references his dwindling time for personal creativity since his tenure as leader began four years ago. “But it really is just me in a cold pile of gravel with slanting rain and dramatic lighting in the sky.

“I asked the quarry for permission. They said it was one of the strangest things they’d ever seen. It was a really cold January morning so my legs went numb. But after a while it became strangely relaxing.”

A photo of a twerking bottom in purple pants as part of a Backlit Nottingham gallery exhibition
Jade Williams' artwerk© Backlit
Twenty-five artists are part of the multi-disciplinary show. Jade Williams’ four-minute twerk film, The Pleasure of Being Looked At, stars the 22-year-old and her arsenal of moves. “I’m interested in ideas about re-appropriating culture and how twerking came from black hip-hop culture and became a dance phenomenon for white girls,” she says.

“It's also about the idea that to be successful you have to be sexual and exploring my own place within that. As an artist I’m outside that culture, commenting on its superficiality. But as a young woman I’m also inside it.”

A photo of rows of snail shells by artist Daniel Rapley as part of a Backlit Nottingham gallery exhibition
Pomatias Elegans© Backlit
Daniel Rapley’s Pomatias Elegans also finds itself going round in circles. In 2013, Rapley began collecting a set of snail shells which now numbers 24,000 examples, spending two years searching for the threatened, round-mouthed UK and European species at a North Downs site. Half of them are on show within three display cases.

Chesney’s submergence, less conspicuously, is shown in a short film. “The really funny thing is that most people assume that the film is a digital manipulation,” he observes. “It says a lot about our culture that people assume that it’s a clever fiction rather than a real physical performance. The audience can view it as a comedy or a tragedy.”


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Read Culture24's guide to the best exhibitions to see in the Midlands this year.
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