Curated by: Xander Karskens
The Distant Sound is the first institutional solo exhibition by Matt Stokes (Penzance, UK, 1973) in the Netherlands. In his collaborative practice, Stokes produces film, video and sculpture in which he reflects on the social and visual codes of specific music subcultures. In recent years the artist has realized projects on the Northern Soul movement, British rave culture, the folk tradition in Camden, and hardcore punk in Austin, Texas.
A collective approach, in which artistic ideas are developed in close collaboration with members of these different music communities, is typical for Stokes. Archival research, re-enactment strategies, and shared authorship are recurring elements in the artist’s practice, facilitating an ongoing investigation into the formal and spiritual structures underlying collective aesthetic experience. Rather than taking a socio-documentary stance, Stokes employs an emphatically subjective language, amplifying the celebratory aspects of music culture.
The exhibition The Distant Sound consists of existing and newly produced works. It includes Stokes’ ecstatic ode to Northern Soul, the lush Super 16mm-to-video work Long After Tonight (2005), for which the artist re-staged a popular 1970s Northern Soul night in St. Salvador’s Church in Dundee, where a group of ‘soulies’ performed their typical, athletic dance moves.
Stokes’ interest in the aesthetics associated with contemporary dance traditions is further elaborated in the 16mm animation Dance Swine Dance (2011), which shows an animated cartoon character performing a variety of recognizable dance styles, from hiphop to metal, and folk to hardcore.
Grindcore meets classical music
The central piece of the exhibition is the new six channel video installation Cantata Profana (2010). It was commissioned by the Kunsthalle Fridericianum in Kassel, Germany, produced by Forma, UK, and co-produced by De Hallen Haarlem. In Cantata Profana, a contemporary interpretation of a classical cantata is performed by six grindcore vocalists, all noted figures in this radical split-off from the hardcore punk/death metal genres.
For this monumental work, the artist collaborated with the British classical composer Orlando Gough, and six vocalists from England, Germany, USA, Norway and the Netherlands, who were assembled in a Berlin studio for a four-day improvisation and recording session. The resulting six-channel video installation combines the ‘grunting’ of grindcore with the stately, ‘respectable’ structures of classical composition.
By confronting traditional aspects of Western musical history and eccentric contemporary genres, these fundamentally contrasting elements merge into an evocative new hybrid, which allows for moments of unexpected beauty to occur.