Chthonic - 72 hours Below Earth Day

‘Neither the sea nor the forest so lends itself to the substantiation of the supernatural as does the mine. The dead darkness, in which the miners’ lamps serve only to distort every shape, the uncanny noises of restless rocks whose support has been undermined, the approach of danger and death without warning, the sudden vanishing or discovery of good fortune, all yield a thousand corroborations to minds long steeped in ignorance and prepared for the miraculous through religious teaching’.

Georgius Agricola De Re Metallica

Alan Smith, Louise K Wilson, John Bowers and Peter Mathews will enter Smallcleugh mine in Nenthead, Cumbria to settle into the vast cavern (now known as the Ballroom) which was cut out of solid limestone by lead miners; The Ballroom gets its name from an event that that took place on September the 2nd 1901 when around 30 local people travelled into the mine for a village dinner party and dance.

Not only will the five be challenged with existing in in the extreme subterranean environment for 72 hours, they will be faced with finding a purpose, an appropriate way of responding to the extraordinary location and consideration of appropriate outcomes.

Like mineworkers the five will enter the mine then navigate their way to Ballroom Flats and while there they will establish a base and explore their thoughts in the hope that riches will be found for extraction from the mine to be processed into materials fit for invention.

What might we find? While our reason or purpose differs fundamentally from the miners, conceptually we can draw on what they have left behind. Using the architectural qualities of the miners’ excavations and constructed labyrinths’ that lay flooded in darkness. We will take as our primary set of tools our senses, our knowledge, imaginations and time to ruminate and on return to terra firma we will assay our treasured thoughts and alchemically strive to disclose another way of making.

The Project:

Three artists, one engineer, three days and three nights underground in The Ballroom.

Start: 20th April 2017: Thursday morning Alan John and Louise meet and prepare to descend into the mine - at 18:00 will enter Smallcleugh mine

End: 23rd 2017: From 10am on Sunday Morning licensed mine guides will bring members of the public down to The Ballroom to meet Alan, Louise and John. We will aim to make 3 visitor trips into the mine with a maximum of 12 per group.

Sunday 23rd April 2017. Visitor information and requirements:

Tickets for mine trip @£10 per person.

You will be required to complete a Health Check Form before we can offer you a place on a trip.

Please email Alan for a Health Check Form and place in email subject: Chthonic health check. (Please let us know your preferred time)

Trip times: meet at Nenthead Mines car park to kit up Sunday 23rd April.

Trip 1. 9:30am


Trip 2. 11:30am

Trip 3. 2pm

(Duration of each trip will be approx. 3.5hrs with 1hr in the ballroom with Chthonic)

The trip underground will be supervised by qualified mine guides. Smallcleugh is a real mine and you will get dirty and possibly wet; you are advised to bring a change of clothes for after the trip.

The first section of the mine is through water (just below knee height) standard height (not short) wellies should be worn.

Gloves and knee-pads are recommended but not essential.

Bottled water or other drink and a light snack, sandwich and chocolate/cereal bar.

Make sure any technology is protected from dust, mud and water (no flash photography in the ballroom please).

Do not overdress; the mine is quite warm although when you arrive at the ballroom you will rapidly cool down so it’s a good idea to take in an additional layer of clothing.

Some sections of the mine require crawling and there are two very short squeezes.

For your return journey back to the surface you will be asked to help the Chthonic participants by carrying something of their equipment and detritus. This will be amassed back at ACA in the Old Schoolhouse Allenheads NE479HR.

Guided tour participants and interested parties are invited to ACA the Old Schoolhouse to join the Chthonic artists on their return for food and conversation. Please let us know if you intend participating in the evening. We estimate a time of 8pm for their return.

For those wanting to hang around in Allenheads during the day there is the Hemmel Café and Allenheads Inn who can provide food and beverages.

John Bowers

John is an artist-researcher with a particular interest in exploring digital technologies and novel interactions. His work is often grounded in field research methods drawn from the social sciences. He leads Culture Lab's research on Digital Media.

Peter Mathews

Peter is an environmental engineer investigating ways of generating electricity from the limited resources of the mine.

Looking into Hydro electricity, generated in kit form, using a Francis Turbine fabricated through 3D printing; taken into the mine in its component parts then assembled.

Alan Smith

Alan is artist, co-founder and creative director of ACA and author of As Above so Below and Chthonic.

Since moving to Allenheads in 1994, influential to Alans’ practice has been the evolving profile of the physical and cultural landscape of the post industrial (lead mining) landscape of the North Pennines.

Louise K Wilson

Louise makes installations, live works, sound works and single channel videos. Processes of research are central to her practice and she frequently involves the participation of individuals from industry, museums, medicine and the scientific community in the making of work.

As Above So Below


Expert contributors



A Midsummer Night's Drone 2016


Click here to see a short video of the weekend event

From our rural base we provoke questions, encourage discussion and stimulate positive advances in art practice

home about us news artists previous projects residencies education observatory accommodation location contact