Curating the East Midlands: Matthew Chesney

Matthew Chesney is an artist curator based in Nottingham. He is founder and director of BACKLIT, an artist-driven contemporary gallery and studio space in the city, which supports early career graduates and emerging artists and provides a dynamic public programme featuring national and international artists. Central to the BACKLIT ethos is its strong working relationships with regional universities and its partnerships with other galleries and creative organisations. It is also committed to supporting projects that promote community and local heritage. As an artist Matthew’s work uses performance, video and sculpture to uncover hidden power structures within contemporary art.

Find out more about Backlit and on Instagram, and about Matthew.

BACKLIT, Alfred House, Ashley St, Nottingham NG3 1JG

How did you come to curating?

I founded BACKLIT in 2008 with 25 other recent graduates from Nottingham Trent University’s Fine Art degree. We felt strongly that there should be a place in the city that supported recent graduates / local artists and that these practitioners should be shown alongside international and nationally based practitioners. Over the years it has very much been a collaborative process with members of the BACKLIT team and the commissioned artists. In the early days we produced exhibitions by committee in a democratic process which was a great way into curating. This also allowed us all to find our own curatorial voice.

What’s happening behind the scenes at the moment at Backlit?

We are currently installing an exhibition called ‘Exaggerate Everything’ which explores mental health and wellbeing through contemporary art.


Who are you working with at the moment?

Our up and coming exhibition will showcase 9 artists with a range of practices and disciplines, to explore the reality of everyday living with mental health issues. Artists include; Lizz Brady (Broken Grey Wires), Hana Madness and the vacuum cleaner, Dan Hett, Niall Farrelly (BACKLIT studio member), Eunjung Suh, Suzanne Golden, Luke Fowler (Modern Institute) and Nicola Dale. We are also working with partners at Broadway and Harmless to deliver the programme content.

Hannah Parikh, Lark’s Head, Familiar Machines, 2019

Tell us about your current exhibition or upcoming exhibition or project.

Exaggerate Everything is a collaboration between BACKLIT Deputy Director Suzanne Golden and Manchester based artist initiative, Broken Grey Wires, led by Lizz Brady. The exhibition will present works by artists sharing their different personal experiences of mental health and wellbeing, with the aim of opening up conversations around these subjects. This exhibition will expand into a heritage and arts project that explores the First County Asylum in January 2020 which will take these conversations from the contemporary art exhibition and look at varying perspectives towards mental health over time.

Ryan Heath (BACKLIT studio member), Diglossia, Mountain of Tongues 2018

How do you select the artists you work with?

Many of the artists we work with are from BACKLIT studios and we commission them to make new works for the exhibitions. Our exhibition programme is diverse and experiential which responds to audiences and targeted groups that we would like to engage with and have long term associations with. BACKLIT is an inclusive space so sometimes when artists approach us with new ideas, projects our artworks they can then feed into other parts of the programme.

Samson Young, We Are the World, Mountain of Tongues, 2018

What dates should we put in our calendars?

Thursday 21st November is opening our new exhibition 6-9pm which will include a live performances and open studios. The public programme and Learning Programme can be found at

What or who are you really excited about?

We are currently working on a project for 2020 with artist Joshua Sofaer and the Environment Agency.

Slavs and Tatars, Mountain of Tongues, 2018

Whose work or what space would you most like to curate?

There are too many artists to mention that I would love to work with! I’ve always really enjoyed Phil Collin’s work (the artist!) and would love to present him at BACKLIT. I am always interested in unusual spaces that are not the usual white cube!

What do we need to see more of in the East Midlands?

More funding and further connections between arts and industries outside the sector.

Matt Chesney. Photo credit: Jonny Davis


Matthew was interviewed in November 2019.

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