Matt Stokes’ new Matt’s Gallery commission Madman in a Lifeboat is an immersive, sculptural video installation, built around the pilot episode of a faux situational comedy series.
The exhibition is based on the surreal imaginings of 74-year-old East Londoner, Charlie Seber, and investigates his life’s work developing a movement called Truth, Reality, Activism – created by Seber following an epiphany whilst working on East End building sites during the 1980’s. At the heart of TRA, or Gravatism, is a concept for the ‘reformation of all faiths’.
Presenting himself as a follower of the movement, Seber tested his concepts on unsuspecting work colleagues, authenticated by a poster of a fake Guru. Spurred by their reactions, he expanded his ideas by adding an increasingly outlandish personal back-story. This begins with him being abandoned at birth during WWII and nurtured by a family of birds. The unorthodox upbringing leads to an encounter with an intelligent mind-reading creature that enlightens him to the ‘substance of existence’, and the path to Truth, Reality, Activism. A journey that is interspersed by evangelical monologues, hymns and lighthearted marching songs.
Stokes and Seber have known each other since 2009. Madman in a Lifeboat arose from recent conversations and searching Seber’s East London home for artefacts linked to the movement, in an effort to draw together and realise aspects of his pseudo-scientific doctrines and fantastical spheres. Amongst the discoveries was a draft sit-com script; the draft has been reworked by both Stokes and Seber, and informs a central element of the exhibition. The resulting video acts as an oblique portrait of the man, by unpicking the relevance of his satirical views on modern life.
This collaboration is the starting point of a larger exploration of Seber’s dreamlike worlds and anarchic philosophies that have largely remained locked within his mind since the early 1980s.
Madman in a Lifeboat runs parallel with our presentation of Stokes’ 2010 work Cantata Profana at Dilston Grove in Southwark Park (27 March–26 April, Fri–Sun 11am–5pm). This is the second in a series of on-going co-productions between Matt’s Gallery and Dilston Grove.
Madman in a Lifeboat is the culmination of Stokes’ year-long Bartlett Fellowship residency with the University of Newcastle’s Fine Art department and at Matt's Gallery, London, supported by on-going mentorship by Matt’s Gallery director Robin Klassnik.
Matt Stokes is the first Bartlett Fellow, a new residency-based fellowship established by Fine Art at The University of Newcastle in partnership with Matt’s Gallery.