For Blaydon-based artist Matt Stokes, bringing past events back to life is a serious matter.
Matt’s practice focuses on history, social phenomena and collaboration as a catalyst for his art, often exploring subjects that have been forgotten or overlooked.
In October, Matt will stage a unique event at Kielder Water & Forest Park by bringing alive a little-known piece of Northumberland’s fascinating history through an immersive form of art.
A Live Action Role-Play, or LARP as it’s more commonly known, is a creative form of interactive storytelling in which participants physically play a character of their own creation and engage with other characters to develop an unfolding story. There is no audience in the traditional sense as the players themselves are the viewers.
Thousands of people attend LARP festivals across the UK every summer and for Matt, this is becoming increasingly familiar territory.
He said: “Although I’ve participated in LARPs before, I’m still learning a huge amount about how they work. Many LARPs in the UK, and much of Europe and North America, revolve around fantastical or mythical worlds. However, it’s my experience of attending events held in Scandinavia, which incorporated aspects with direct parallels to contemporary issues and culture, that has really influenced me.”
Following research in local archives, Matt discovered an unusual piece of Kielder’s wartime history which will become the basis of this project, commissioned by Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust through its Art & Architecture programme. It may come as a surprise to many people that during the Second World War, the park was once home to a unique rehabilitation centre in Lewisburn, close to the River North Tyne. Named HMS Standard, the centre was used by the Royal Navy to help recovery service personnel diagnosed with a variety of psychiatric conditions return to active service.
In the LARP at Kielder, participants will re-imagine the experiences of the people and atmosphere of the place and period.
Speaking about his project, titled Stone Frigate (a term given to onshore Royal Navy bases), Matt said: “I hope that the Stone Frigate offers people the opportunity to get involved in and engage with something they might not have experienced – whether they are ‘LARPers’ or not – as well as helping to reinvigorate knowledge about an intriguing and important part of Kielder’s history.”
Kielder Art & Architecture is interested in hearing from anyone who may have living memories or information connected to HMS Standard.
It is also seeking participants to take part in the actual LARP, which will run from Friday, October 25 until Sunday, October 27 – including looking for volunteers to help with the preparation and behind-the-scenes action during the event. To sign up for the LARP or for more information about getting involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org