It was not an auspicious start. After wandering the post-industrial streets of Sneinton, careful to avoid the eyes of pub doorway smokers and people with big dogs, I lighted upon the Backlit gallery, opposite the Jesus church and the car wash, between Brazilian Jui Jitsu (some kind of fighting ring) and Dare to Bare (God only knows). But walking up the stairs, a sweet tasting surprise lay in store. I was greeted by a complimentary Chinese beer and an enthusiastic greeting before being taken on a guided tour of Backlit, one of the hideouts for Nottingham’s more outlaw artists.
First came the Virtual Gallery, a tool developed by Nottingham Trent University’s Tim Chesney in order to take the art to the people, particularly those who wouldn’t usually set foot in an art gallery if it was made of milky bars and softcore pornography. The Virtual Gallery (a working title) is a three-dimensional recreation of a traditional art space, with pixelated high ceilings and wooden floors, which allow the participant to see, create and curate an exhibition and share it with the world using a motion sensing mouse that will feel natural to the Wii generation. This outstanding piece of technology was created using and international support and is one more example of Nottingham-based creatives taking other technology and making it their own, with a small budget and big ambitions.
I was next introduced to the man at the centre of the main attraction, Eindhoven-born artist Paul Heijnen, creator of what is apparently the UK's first folding art gallery. It is in reality a series of simple but beautiful white screens mounted on plain wooden brackets reverted to the outside of the structure. Its practicality in allows the gallery to stage art, theatre and performance as it wishes. Paul is one of those people that bristles with creative energy, his arms expanding to find something to shape as he talks to me about the ideas behind his creation.
He says: “I am, how do you say in English, recalcitrant.
"If people are all walking in one direction, I want to walk the other way.”
Paul’s work takes in both modern and traditional elements, 'up-cycling' old materials to create something new, fresh and interesting, taking established forms and literally turning them inside out, as good for mother nature as they are for the art lover. At the front desk are a pile of his business cards made from left over wood rejects. He talks to me expansively about his adventures of carving from recycled granite in the Dolomite mountain range in Italy, or his commissions for the Dutch royal family as well his adventures in Nottingham, comparing it with his native Eindhoven in terms of energy and youthfulness.
After that, Tim's twin brother and Backlit founder Matt takes me on a tour of the gallery itself, where I admit I am a first-time visitor. Past a series of alcoves which each house new young artists, enthusiastic and brimming with fervour, the far end of the gallery holds a sand and wood installation by another of Backlit's members, Leila Al-Yousef. The sturdy beams loom across the audience, below the ceiling, suspended in time and space - a keen mix of the natural and artificial, the earthy and the ethereal. As I watch, two youth children play in the scouts uniform in the sand that makes up the base of the piece and each footprint changes the work and gives it life, leaving a mark that will be erased and remade.
To tie it all together, all three pieces are truly interactive, to be moved and modified by a participant audience and Backlit itself is as much of a fluid community and meeting place as it is a static gallery, full of ideas for the future of the Nottingham Art Scene. Do visit.
Hyper Real Part II ran from 30 March til 8 April.