Marcus Coates, Psychopomp

2 April 2010

Marcus Coate’s first retrospective in this country at Milton Keynes Gallery from 15 January to 4 April 2010.

This is the first time that I have encountered Coates’ work and was encouraged to do so because of my interest in nature, (in particular birds) and the relationship with the urban environment… this interest has many levels, from bird calls and behaviour, migration, migration barriers and tagging to nesting and roosting in abandoned buildings and bird control and architecture.

Like other visitors watching  ‘Journey to the Other World’, I was transfixed on Coates shaman ritual performance, watching him achieve a trance like state and take part in a one way conversation (mimicking the language of animals through grunts, moans, chirps, etc) with animals and birds from the spirit world.

The ritual took place in a flat in Liverpool, with a group of around 10 people sat in front of Coates.  The group had concerns about the area they lived in, including the future of the site and the community and were worried that the network would seese to exist.  Coates’ role was to provide guidance to the group’s questions via communication with the animal spirit world.

The journey that Coate’s describes is one that explores his and the audiences imagination- detailing his exit from the building via the lift and down into the lower world.  He describes encounters and conversations with animals and birds and (just like a dream) strange symbolic occurances that relate directly to the groups concern… Coate’s uses this premonition to enlighten the group and share his interpretation (of the sparrow hawks bird wing stretched out with feathers moving independently and then shrinking) when he is unable to get a clear answer from any animal or bird spirits.

Still taken from Journey to the lower world
Still taken from Journey to the lower world, 2004

Dawn Chorus is an eerily beautiful multi screened video installation, showing footage of 19 singers tweeting and chirping like birds.  All participants were shot in their ‘natural habitats’, including a car park, osteopathic clinic and in a bath tub.  The video footage has been sped up so the singers erratic movements mimic that of a birds and their ‘singing’ perfectly matches that of a selection of birds (so much so, that some visitors expected the installation to include real birds).  Dawn Chorus was a completely immersive experience, I stood in the middle, trying to figure out which singer was making which bird noise, occasionally moving closer to one singer, waiting for them to join in with the dawn chorus, the quality and realistic soundscape was mesmerising and to a point sublime.  I think this may have been the longest I have stayed at an exhibition.  Dawn Chorus was produced with Picture This, The Wellcome Trust and Geoff Sample (bird song expert and sound wildlife recordist).

Dawn Chorus, 2007

To watch a clip of Dawn Chorus please click here.

It has been suggested that after this show, he should at least be nominated for the Turner Prize… I whole- heartedly agree.

Lucy Stevens’ artistic practice examines the acoustic ecology of the natural environment, using field recording, digital illustration, performance and printmaking as a tool to visualise sound produced by wildlife, weather and other natural phenomena.

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