176 and Newcastle-based artist Matt Stokes have been working together to produce Stokesís first solo show in London. The exhibition includes the newly commissioned song and film The Gainsborough Packet, a social interaction project entitled Club Ponderosa and the UK premiere of these are the days, a two-channel film made during his residency at Arthouse in Austin, Texas, as well as works from the Zabludowicz Collection.
Stokesís research-based practice is frequently concerned with musical subcultures. He proceeds by acquainting himself with particular groups, their histories and values, then producing films, installations and event-based works related to his findings. Collaboration and shared authorship are central to his practice, as is an enthusiasm for DIY approaches. For The Gainsborough Packet, Stokes has collaborated with musician Jon Boden from acclaimed folk-big-band Bellowhead, composer Alistair Anderson, who is one of the UKís leading exponents of the folk tradition, and Tim Kerr, an iconic figure of the US punk and early hardcore scene.
The Gainsborough Packet, &c. is the culmination of a yearís research and development, which began with Stokesís discovery in the Tyne & Wear archives of a letter written in 1828 by an ordinary man named John Burdikin. Tracing the adventures of Burdikinís life, the letter was the inspiration for lyrics, music and a 16mm film created by Stokes and his collaborators on the project. The Gainsborough Packet engages with folk traditions, contemporary music videos and popular culture, and is being produced with a particular sensitivity to the shared legacy of folk music in Camden and NewcastlegGateshead, where Stokes lives. Since the rapid growth of these areas during the latter half of the 19th century, folk music and traditions have played an important role in the social and cultural fabric of each area, and this relevance is highlighted by The Gainsborough Packet. The Gainsborough Packet is a co-commission with BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, which will be exhibiting the work from 4 March to 10 May 2009.
Also produced as part of Stokesís residency at 176, Club Ponderosa takes its name from both the ranch in the famous 1960s TV series Bonanza and a shelter built in a Newcastle neighbourhood by residents of a crescent seeking an independent space to meet and talk. Club Ponderosa will function as a place for performances and social interaction designed and programmed by residents of the area around 176. Developed in collaboration with self-organised groups and gifted amateurs, the club will operate within 176, but with its own series of events and a separate entrance and access times. It will also include MASS, a free collective sound system made up of donated elements. Both works produced as part of Stokesís residency are being developed partly in response to the history of the former Methodist chapel that houses 176 and its surrounding area.
Matt Stokes is represented by Workplace Gallery.
Matt Stokes The Gainsborough Packet
by Killian Fox The Observer, Sunday 4 January 2009
In 2002, during his residency at the Grizedale Arts programme in the Lake District, Matt Stokes learnt about an acid house movement that had organised a series of cave raves in the area in the early 90s. Stokes, a fine art graduate of Newcastle University who went on to win the 2006 Beck's Futures prize, took a closer look. (The story involved an irate lord, dynamite, and a media furore.) His research developed into an art piece and music has been central to his work ever since.
"My interest in music comes from looking at the communities that surround certain music scenes," the 35-year-old explains. "I feel there is something really important in the way that music subcultures, particularly those away from the mainstream, shape people's lives, beliefs and outlooks."
When he started a residency with Arthouse in Austin, Texas, last March, Stokes became interested in the city's punk scene. He tracked down people who had been active in the original scene in the late 1970s. Soon these people were digging boxes out of their attics and giving Stokes access to "amazing stuff - flyers, posters, bits of vinyl, demo tapes and loads of footage," which Stokes has used as part of his Austin show, these are the days, opening in January. The other part of the show, a two-channel film of a punk rock concert that Stokes staged in an Austin warehouse, will also be screened at his forthcoming residency exhibition at the 176 Gallery in London.
Stokes, who was born in Penzance, works collaboratively, exploring links between generations, communities and even his own individual projects. The participants in his Austin film - the bands, the audience, the cinematographers - were drawn from punk scenes past and present. One of the Austin musicians, Tim Kerr, also contributes to The Gainsborough Packet, Stokes's new film which ties in prominent members of the English folk scene. He invited several folk musicians to write a song about John Burdikin, an early 19th-century, working-class Newcastle hero, then made the film around the song.
The show at 176, which opens next month, will include a project called Club Ponderosa, a meeting and performance space within the Camden gallery where local niche interest groups can come together and present their ideas to the public.
It promises compelling insights into offbeat worlds, but the London exhibition is also an acknowledgement of the exciting, socially engaged young talent who delights in drawing them together.