Hollow Earth: Art, Caves & The Subterranean Imaginary

rocky outcrop
  • Lydia Ourahmane, Tassili, 2022, video still. 4K video, 16mm transferred to video, digital animation, sound . 47:41 minutes . Courtesy the artist

Nottingham sits above a shadow city: a collection of almost 1,000 hand-carved sandstone caves, dating back to the Middle Ages. Spanning works by some 50 artists and collectives, Hollow Earth descends into the depths to explore questions of prehistory and myth, ritual and the future.

Every culture and religion has told stories about what lies beneath. Caves are where extraordinary events come to pass, the domain of gods and monsters, saints and shamans, births and burials. Dark, dangerous and unstable, caves are places of visions, of experiences that are sacred as well as profane. More recently, they have become home to data farms, seed vaults and doomsday bunkers.

For millennia, the image and idea of the cave has exerted an enduring pull on artists. It has even been argued that the cave was the earliest studio and the first museum. Following the 19th-century discoveries of rock paintings, caves became imagined as spaces of revelation and fantasy, providing clues to our collective impulse to produce images. After World War II, artists came to associate the cave with the primordial creative space, with a bunker-like refuge from the atomic era, and even with the dream of a truly underground cinema. Today, in an age of ecological breakdown, they are portals to the deep past and troubled futures, places where species and millennia intermingle.

Mapping both specific sites and imaginary underworlds, Hollow Earth considers why and how so many artists, musicians and filmmakers have been drawn below. Organised in collaboration with Hayward Gallery Touring, the exhibition brings together painting, sculpture, photography, archives and architectural proposals, film and music from the last 50 years, with a number of new commissions. In 2023, the exhibition will tour to The Glucksman in Cork and to RAMM in Exeter.