Marcus Coates: Psychopomp


15 January - 4 April 2010

…my work is all about our relationship with animals and nature…There is humour in the work, but a serious side explores how we use our relationship with animals to define our humanness.” Marcus Coates

This exhibition is the first survey of Marcus Coates’ work in a public gallery in the UK and it includes early film pieces, sculpture, sound, costumes and photographs as well as new work.

Coates often assumes the identity of an animal, such as a fox, goshawk or stoat, by simulating its appearance, enacting its habits and appropriating its language. In the film, Stoat (1999), for example, Coates totters around on ramshackle platforms, learning to recreate the animal’s bounding movements; in Goshawk (1999), a telephoto lens captures the artist as a rare bird perched precariously at the top of a tree; while in Finfolk (2003), the artist emerges from the North Sea spluttering a new dialect, as spoken by seals.

Coates has also trained as a shaman and the exhibition includes films of his rituals, where he achieves a trance-like state and communes with the animal kingdom to address social issues. Wearing an array of costumes such as a badger’s hide, a stuffed horse’s head, a blonde wig and a necklace of money (all of which will be on display), Coates has addressed issues including prostitution, regeneration and swine flu for communities worldwide and most recently in Israel, Japan and Switzerland.

…I feel that my imagination can be put to good use socially, even politically.”
Marcus Coates

Dawn Chorus (2007) is a major, multi-screen installation in which human voices re-create the chorus sung at dawn by birds, including a chaffinch, pheasant and yellowhammer. Together with wildlife sound recordist Geoff Sample, Coates recorded individual birds singing simultaneously on a single morning. Each was slowed down to a human pitch, so that people could be filmed mimicking these lower and slower sounds in their own natural habitats, such as a hotel, osteopath’s clinic or even a bath tub. The films were then accelerated until people twitter like birds and their voices precisely echo the original birdsong.

Coates’ interest in appearance and transformation is encapsulated in the sculpture Peregrine, 1999, where an ordinary starling has been re-cast as a powerful predator, through the simple painting of its feathers.

The exhibition includes works spoken in numerous tongues as Coates exploits the spiritual and social potential of art and ultimately addresses his audiences using the universal language of the imagination.

‘Psychopomp’ means ‘the guide of souls’; they are creatures, spirits, angels, or deities in many religions whose responsibility is to escort newly-deceased souls to the afterlife, or to act as mediators between the unconscious and conscious realms. They have been associated in many cultures with animals, such as horses, dogs, crows and sparrows. In many cultures, the shaman fulfills the role of the psychopomp.

Press Release