With his Kassel exhibition Matt Stokes devotes himself to the lasting effect of underground music as a counter-culture to the mainstream and its ability to spawn scenes which greatly influence people’s opinions and lifestyles, issues which run through Stokes' entire oeuvre.

In his works, many of which are film or event-based, the British artist Matt Stokes deals with subcultures. In meticulous research, he explores the origins of music scenes and groups, investigating the local development of, say, the folk movement in Camden and Newcastle, Northern Soul in Dundee, and punk rock in Austin, Texas. Stokes is interested in the way in which music creates a collective feeling, serving as a catalyst for certain groups to form, and shaping and influencing people’s lives and identities. He immerses himself in specific contexts and gets involved with the community of a subculture, and in this way manages to convey the characteristics of these scenes in an artistic manner which is not only documentary, but also personal, celebratory and expressive. From his long-term research, in which he collects impressions, stories, and materials, he creates films, installations, musical works and events which develop their own conceptual and aesthetic life.

For his works, Stokes initially does meticulous research, familiarises himself with the music scene or subculture he is exploring, and filters out what is special about it. Stokes chooses the medium for his artistic work based on these findings, and during this process he investigates how he can give expression to this “special aspect” – the essence of what he is researching. The film shown at the Fridericianum, The Gainsborough Packet (2008-09), is a brilliant work which in the style of costume films refers to industrialisation in the mid 19th century and to the great importance of music and song in the daily lives of newly urbanised people. With Real Arcadia (2003), Stokes sheds light on late 1980s British acid and rave culture. The extensive text work attests to the excessive “cave raves” celebrated in caves in England. Outside of clubs, these parties held in natural environments temporarily did away with social differences between the ravers and, due to the remote locations, triggered veritable pilgrimages.

Stokes’ works are often context-related, alluding to the musical histories of the places he conceives an exhibition for. For the exhibition in Kassel, for instance, he produced the space-filling video installation Cantata Profana (2010), in which six international hardcore singers – one from Kassel – are the protagonists. Using traditional composition techniques, Stokes combines their typical singing, which is usually devoid of lyrics. The auditive aspect, the singers’ movements and body postures, as well as the recording location that form the background for the film contributes to the special atmosphere of this unique choral work. Installed in a semicircle which will dominate a wing of the Fridericianum and recall ancient amphitheatre architecture, this new film work will take a penetrating look at hardcore, grindcore and death metal music cultures that played an influential role in Kassel’s music scenes from the late 1980s to today.

Supported by

Matt Stokes

Matt Stokes was born in 1973 in Penzance, England. He completed his Fine Arts exams in 1997 at the Newcastle University. He currently lives and works between Gateshead and Newcastle Upon Tyne.

Stokes recently staged a major solo exhibition The Gainsborough Packet, &c. at 176, London including work shown simultaneously at Baltic centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead (2009). Other recent solo exhibitions include these are the days, Arthouse, Texas (2009), [un]promised Land, attitudes espace d'arts contemporains, Geneva (2007) and Pills to Purge Melancholy, Collective Gallery, Edinburgh (2006).

He has also shown extensively in group exhibitions such as See This Sound, Lentos Kunstmuseum, Linz (2009), Crossing, Centro per l’Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci, Prato (2008), The Weasel: Pop Music and Contemporary Art, South London Gallery, London (2007), Street: behind the cliché, Witte de With, Rotterdam (2006), and Our Surroundings, Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee (2005). In 2006 he won the awarded Beck’s Futures Prize and was short-listed for the Northern Art Prize in 2009.

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