'Northern Soul' video wins Beck's art prize

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The Independent Online

A video artist who has documented the ritualistic pleasure of a Sixties "Northern Soul" night in a church hall won the prestigious £20,000 Beck's Futures art prize yesterday.

Matt Stokes' winning entry, Long After Tonight, is a seven-minute recording of a group of "soulies" - members of the Northern Soul music phenomena in the Sixties and Seventies - collecting obscure North American soul music, and meeting in venues across the north of England. They are shown dancing hypnotically to a soundtrack as the camera occasionally cuts to ornate religious iconography in a Gothic revivalist church in Dundee.

The camera begins at knee height, then pans to hip height as the dancers drop, spin and swirl, incorporating dance steps from flamenco, waltz, disco, ballet and dervish-whirling.

The Beck's Futures prize has traditionally been marketed as a "funkier" version of the Turner Prize.

Cornish-born Stokes, 32, who lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, was presented with the prize money by the artists Martin Creed and Gillian Wearing, who were judging the 15th annual award for emerging contemporary artists under the age of 35, which is sponsored by The Independent.

As well as a judging panel which included Dinos and Jake Chapman, Cornelia Parker and Yinka Shonibare, a new online public voting system overwhelmingly gave its backing to Stokes' installation, which is on display at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London until 14 May.

Ekow Eshun, artistic director at the ICA, said he was delighted by the winning entry, as well as by the "humour and playfulness" in the work of the other 12 short-listed artists, which included a display of size 13 shoes and an alphabetical re-ordering of every word in James Joyces' modernist masterpiece, Ulysses. The runners up will each receive £1,500.

"Matt Stokes' work incorporates something that was part of popular culture with a sense of nostalgia and memory, and carries an intense passion," said Mr Eshun.Enabling the public to vote online, and staging the show not only in London but simultaneously in Bristol and Glasgow, had gone some way to changing the award's profile, following criticism of last year's winning entry, Christina Mackie, Mr Eshun said.

Mackie's work, My Depression, consisted of a wooden shelter and two slide-shows of flowers. It was dismissed by some as meaningless. Mr Eshun said that he had sought to change aspects of the awards to attract greater audience numbers and add dynamism to the prize.

"We changed the structure, we made the judges more high profile and our audience numbers for the prize are up by 45 per cent compared to last year. I wanted to make it more of a national event, something that matters to audiences. The online public vote was about having a conversation with audiences about the works," he said.

Stokes, whose work engages with the anthropological nature of collective social events in modern society, such as rave culture and the acid house phenomenon of the late Eighties, was praised by the judges as defining a particular generation. Ms Shonibare said the video entry was "not only socially engaging but also very beautiful". She added: "The work is in one way nostalgic, as it recreates a particular moment in the history of rave culture and Northern Soul. It is work that the audience can identify with, it captures a fascinating ritual and gives it a sense of collective euphoria."

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