Matt Stokes at Holy Trinity Church


Project Info


  • Matt Stokes


  • The Churches Conservation Trust
  • Contemporary Visual Arts Network
  • Arts Council England

Matt Stokes was commissioned as part of a programme called Mapping Contemporary Art in the Heritage Experience (MCAHE) in partnership with the Churches Conservation Trust, to create a work responding to Holy Trinity Church in Sunderland.

MCAHE was an interdisciplinary research project from 2018-19 led by staff at Newcastle University in collaboration with the University of Leeds; as well as the following project partners: National Trust, The Churches Conservation Trust, English Heritage, Arts&Heritage, Contemporary Visual Arts Network, Arts Council England.

For MCAHE 2018, Matt Stokes presented Gogmagog – a commissioned sound installation situated within the nave of Holy Trinity Church that reinvigorated a three-hour ‘Triple Bob’ peal rung on the church’s eight bells in 1898. As the bells had been silenced due to the condition of the bell tower, a new version of the peal was given life by local music and singing collectives, that drew lyrics from the story of the church’s historical social roles, paralleled by the thoughts of the community that inhabit Old Sunderland at the time.

The peal was composed during the mid 1700s by Benjamin Annable, an important figure in the development of change ringing. Its performance on the bells of Holy Trinity was commemorated by a plaque that still hangs in the bell tower.

“I’ve been meeting with various people in Sunderland, particularly around the east end, talking to them about some of the changes that they’ve experienced in living memory, as well as going to archives and finding sources to do with old Sunderland town and Holy Trinity, and the things that have affected the area. And then I’ve been meeting with singers and musicians in Sunderland, and community groups whose focus might be music, to see about how some of those groups could become involved in performing the reworked version of the original Bell Peel.” – Matt Stokes

The brief for the commission underscored the need to respond to the elegant, but fragile Georgian Church, alongside its location near to a large 1960’s housing estate and other historic buildings used by community groups. In addition, the planned development of Holy Trinity Church as an accessible cultural venue for the city, with a strong focus on music and performance, meant responding to changes was important to the Churches Conservation Trust who cared for the building.

“If we doubt the ability of local communities to recognise their ‘ordinary’ heritage and articulate it imaginatively in present-day cultural contexts, this project should be a source of hope. It shows also what a crucial role can be played by contemporary artists, seeing how parallel stories layer through each other, and nudging everyone a little beyond their normal comfort zones to produce something of new value.” – Dave Pritchard, Corridor8

Read the Gogmagog Handbill or visit the project’s blog here.

Gogmagog – The Voices of the Bells was shown from 7 July – 23 September 2018.

Click here to watch a film about the installation.

The handsome brick and stone Holy Trinity Church was built in 1718-19, perhaps designed by William Etty, who certainly played a part in fitting out the interior. Then in a quiet situation on the edge of a lively and vigorous port; now, again, it is surrounded by open spaces. In 1735 the apse and its ‘Venetian’ window were added, the west gallery and a new roof in about 1803, but many of the 1719 furnishings remain.

The construction of the Church in 1719 marked the forging of Sunderland as a city. At the heart of a busy port it played an important role in the life of people living in the area. As well as providing religious services the Church also housed the Town Hall, Magistrate’s Court and Sunderland’s first public library. Since its inception, a committee of vestry men were responsible not only for the Church, but overseeing local matters including offering relief to the poor.

Over time Holy Trinity’s place changed as the centre of the city shifted to the west. With this and the decline of industry and trade, the community surrounding the church also changed.

The church is now under the care and management of the Churches Conservation Trust and is undergoing an ambitious £4.3 million restoration project to conserve and regenerate this hugely significant Grade I listed building. The project will reconnect the city with its past, and Holy Trinity will be transformed into a new venue for culture, heritage and learning called Seventeen Nineteen, where the stories of Old Sunderland are brought to life through interpretation, events and performances.

The Artist

Matt Stokes is an artist whose works begin with an immersive research process that explores the history and social structures of the place he is working in, resulting in the production of films, installations and events. These outcomes hold collaboration at the centre of both their formation and philosophy, often being made directly with people from the communities they are celebrating. Stokes has exhibited widely in the UK and internationally, including solo exhibitions at Matt’s Gallery (London), CAAC (Seville, Spain), Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (Gateshead), Kunsthalle Fridericianum (Kassel, Germany) and De Hallen (Haarlem, Netherlands). He is represented by Workplace Gallery, London/Gateshead and Markus Lüttgen, Cologne.