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Art Review: Mass at Backlit Gallery

19 February 16 words: Lara Agland

"The gallery intertwines a combination of video performance, sculpture, ceramics and drawing. Matt explained how he wanted each artist involved to come up with an entirely new work that had a theme of mass"

Backlit’s Mass exhibition consists of around 25 artists’ work, which, as described by curator Mathew Chesney, came around by him thinking about the ‘idea of mass in terms of materiality, accumulation and volume in both a scientific, literal sense, as well as spiritual’.

The gallery intertwines a combination of video performance, sculpture, ceramics and drawing. Matt explained how he wanted each artist involved to come up with an entirely new work that had a theme of mass, whether it be about the economy, the power of nature or the effects of mass media. Each of the artists were put into groups and given the challenge of creating art that would interact and compliment each other’s work, and because of this they were in constant discussion through their creative process.

When asked how much free range they had for this project, Jade Williams, one of the artists, explained how over its six month period there was a lot of discussion and dialogue between the artists, but it was not controlled in terms of individual works and each artist was given a great deal of freedom.

The first work that grabs your attention as you walk into the gallery is The Curator is Stuck, a work by the gallery’s own curator and director, Matthew Chesney. It is a piece of video that shows Matthew buried up to his neck in gravel in the wind and rain, filmed at Shardlow Quarry. He explained to me the honesty of the work, in showing an artist’s version of writers block, and that he used the gravel as it is ‘a material that makes you feel very self-conscious and self-aware’.

When I asked about the logistical side of things, he explained how he choose Shardlow quarry for its beautiful landscape, so went and asked Hanson UK for permission to film in their Quarry. Once they agreed, he had one assistant bury him and another to film him. He stayed buried in the gravel for one hour to film the 3-minute, 45-second video.  He wanted both a comedic and tragic aspect to be seen within the work, and said how he was heavily influenced by Samuel Beckett’s play Happy Days.

Another video work within the exhibition is The Pleasure of Being Looked At by Jade Williams. The 4-minute video explores the twerking trend in today’s culture. Jade said how the project started as looking at the ‘appropriation of culture, and how black culture has made its way into the mainstream and into young girls bedrooms’.

Once the work was on display, something that Jade found very interesting was how most people seemed to assume that it was videoed by a man who had hired a model, rather than Jade, who videoed and modelled for it herself. This work looks at how women want ‘to be seen as attractive, but it also shows a critical view of why young women put themselves up looking like this online’. She explains how she was intrigued by the ‘Kardashian effect’ which has brought about the idea that ‘if you’re sexual, you’re successful’.

This work also raises the question of the difference between putting something online, and showing it in a gallery. If Jade put her twerking video online, would it get the same response? In a gallery it is in a critical framework and this brings about a different discussion. As Jade suggested, ‘what is it that suggests it’s a man’s work when it has a feminine aesthetic – is it because it’s the female body?’

In this day and age, we are desensitised to this kind of imagery and don’t find it particularly shocking, if anything we are drawn to it, fascinated by the looks of the Kardashians and the Nicki Minajs of the world. For Jade it was very important that she both filmed the work and modelled in it, to give herself complete creative control. She wanted ‘young women to see it and question why they’re putting naked pictures and videos online’.

Two other works particularly stood out for me, one by Daniel Rapley and the other by Demi Overton. Rapley’s work consists of 10,000 shells of the Pomatias Elegans snail, collected by him and his son from the same location over the course of two years. These shells are quite rare and searching for them became a meditative activity and this work demonstrates how artists suffer for their work.

Matthew explained to me how sometimes, for artists, ‘things make sense down the line’, shown here as Rapley ‘didn’t know what he was going to eventually use [the shells] for when he was collecting them’. This works also stresses the importance of how it is sometimes an artist’s job to transform something that is subtle into something powerful and visa versa.

Overton’s work consists of two pieces of paper that are punctured both ways through the paper in painstakingly accurate motions to depict the terrain of the Tibetan and Nepalese mountains. This piece takes you to a place that you as the viewer will likely never have been to before. The white of the paper shows the mass of nature in a snowy terrain.

Both this piece and Rapley’s work draw you in with a very plain use of colour. In Rapley’s piece, an almost optical illusion is created from the way that he has not organised it into colour. With Overton’s piece, it is the stark boldness of the white that creates a hypnotic, spellbinding effect on the viewer.

The way that the artwork in this exhibition interacts with each other is quite unusual but typical in Backlit’s annual group exhibitions. Each piece is unique, yet balances its companions in their chosen room. The crossovers are sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious but always intriguing.

I had the pleasure of being shown around by two of the artists, one of whom was the curator, so I was given an insight into the ideas behind each work. I look forward to Backlit’s next exhibition and viewing some of the pieces that are to come from the individual artists.

Mass runs at Nottingham’s Backlit Gallery until Sunday 21 February

Backlit website

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