Open Frequency 2009: Marcus Coates selected by Jenny Brownrigg

Open Frequency 2009: Marcus Coates selected by Jenny Brownrigg Marcus Coates, The Plover's Wing (The Palestinian/Israeli Crisis), The Mayor of Holon, Interpreter and Marcus Coates, 2008. Archival inkjet print. Credit: Marcus Coates and Workplace Gallery (UK)

Jenny Brownrigg profiles the work of Marcus Coates

Marcus Coates primarily works in film and performance. The overarching fascination in his practice has been to aspire to transformational states, where one being becomes another, whilst showing the inherent failure in any such enterprise. In early works he achieved this by attempting to take on other species' attributes in a series of self portraits. In 'Red Fox (Self Portrait)' (1999) he crawled across a field wearing a red boiler suit. The photograph is taken over a mile away, forcing us to observe him as part of nature. This approach was again used in 'Goshawk (Self Portrait)' (1999), where the Forestry Commission suspended him high above the ground in a Sitka Spruce tree. From this lofty position the artist experienced some of the inherent characteristics of this bird- its viewpoint and favoured habitat. However, looking at the photograph we see the absurdity of a human figure stranded up a tree.

Coates has effectively utilised the mimicry of animal sound and birdsong in his works. 'British Indigenous Animals' (2000) saw the artist completely removing himself from the picture. The camera is focused for the film's duration on a microphone pointing at the foreground of an open landscape. The viewer then hears the distinctive cries of fallow deer, badger, rabbit and fox. In the last seconds the turf rolls back, and the artist, clothed in a white boiler suit, ends his confinement as part of the landscape. 'Finfolk' (2003) expands on the myth of the selkie,1 witnessing Coates emerge from the sea onto dry land. His imagining of how a seal would mimic a person creates a hybrid with a particularly guttural form of Tourettes.

The participation of others in such transformations is ambitiously brought to fruition in 'Dawn Chorus' (2007), an exhibition made up of seventeen films of singers recreating birdsongs from the comfort of their own architectural habitats. Working with wildlife recordist Geoff Sample, microphones were placed around woodland in Northumberland over a fortnight period, to record individual bird songs from the dawn chorus. Each recording was slowed down and then passed onto the human participant to learn and sing on camera. The resulting footage was then upped to the bird's speed of delivery, creating a hybrid of benign doppelgangers- an office worker is a wren, an elderly man becomes a pheasant.

Coates' performances have increasingly occurred in a social context. 'Journey to the Lower World' (2004) and 'Radio Shaman' (2006) explore the socially engaged artist as 'shaman', a curer of social ills. In 'Radio Shaman' as part of his residency in Stavanger, Norway, Coates records a live radio phone-in where as a shaman he is asked to find the answer to this coastal town's only problem, an influx of West African prostitutes. 'Journey to the Lower World' (2004) records his performance for a small group of residents about to be moved out of their soon-to-be demolished tower block. Their question 'Do we have a protector for this site?' is taken to a series of creatures Marcus meets in the Lower World. The residents' initial disbelief at this bespectacled shaman in a DIY deerskin is soon suspended. The uncanny nature of Coates' performance has the audience caught between the two worlds of reality and mysticism. Although Coates' work shifts between absurdity, comedy and pathos, his earnestness always connects with the essence of our own human condition- to attain freedom from, or for, ourselves.

Jenny Brownrigg, February 2009

Artist's biography

Coates (b.1968, London) graduated in 1990 with a BA (Hons) Degree in Fine Art from Kent Institute of Art and Design, (UK) and in 1993 gained a Post Graduate Diploma at the Royal Academy of Art, (London, UK). The artist is represented by Workplace Gallery and is currently exhibiting as part of Altermodern: Tate Triennial, at Tate Britain until 26 April 2009.

Solo performances in 2008: 'Pastoral Spirit', Wallspace, All Hallows Church, London; 'Report', Channel 9 TV, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador; 'This Wild Melody', Barbican Art Gallery, London; 'Spirit Caravan', The Hayward Gallery, London. Selected solo exhibitions include: Cycle Parking and Prostitution, Rokord, Norway (2007); Whitechapel Laboratory - Marcus Coates, Whitechapel Art Gallery (2007); Dawn Chorus, Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (2007); Marcus Coates, Rogaland Kunstsenter, Stavanger, Norway; Marcus Coates' Films 99-2005, Side Cinema, Newcastle (2005); Journey to the Lower World, Café Gallery Projects, London (2004).

Selected group exhibitions include: Manifesta7, Trento, Italy (2008); Harry Smith Anthology Remixed, CCA, Glasgow (2008); Experimental Marathon, Reykjavik Art Museum, Iceland (2008); Hamsterwheel, Malmo Konsthall, Malmo, Sweden (2008); Trust in Me, Charles H.Scott Gallery, Vancouver, Canada (2008); Goggle på jorden, Galleri Charlotte Lund, Stockholm, Sweden (2008); Art Futures, Bloomberg Space, London (2007); God is a Gallery, Gallery Galuzin, Oslo, Norway (2006); British Art Show 6, Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art & Touring (2006/5); The Young Artists' Biennial - Absent Without Leave (AWOL) Bucharest, Romania (2006); Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial, Niigata-ken, Japan (2006); Where the Wild Things Are, DCA, Dundee (2006); Hilchot Shechenim, Israeli Centre for Digital Art, Holon, Israel (2005); Human Nature, Pump House Gallery, Battersea, London (2005); Mother Nature, Vilma Gold, London, UK (2003).

Publications include: In Profile: Marcus Coates, Picture This (2007); Marcus Coates: Journey to the Lower World, J J Charlesworth, Alec Finlay, Josie Crawford, Mark Wallinger, Marcus Coates, (2005), Morning Star, Platform Projects; Marcus Coates (2001), Grizedale Arts; Alex Farquharson, Andrea Schlieker, British Art Show 6, Hayward Gallery Publishing, London, 2005; Gary Marx, Human Nature, Pump House Gallery, 2005.

About Jenny Brownrigg

Jenny Brownrigg is University of Dundee Exhibitions Department Curator at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design (2002-). She graduated with BA (hons) Fine Art from Glasgow School of Art (1990-4) and MFA at DJCAD (1996). Previous posts have included; Gallery Co-ordinator at Changing Room Gallery, Stirling (1998-9), and Project Officer at Grizedale Arts, Cumbria (2000-2).

As an artist Jenny undertook several residencies including the Scottish Arts Council Pier Arts Centre Fellowship, Orkney (1998). She is also the author of two publications; 'Nature Centre', the result of a writer's residency with Grizedale Arts, and 'Romantic Vanguard', a screenplay which was developed during her artist residency with Royston Road Project in Blackhill, Glasgow (2002). She writes articles for magazines including Untitled and The Map. She was co-curator of The Young Artists' Biennial Absent Without Leave (AWOL) , 2nd Edition, Bucharest, Romania, Oct 14 - Nov 16 2006. 

Open Frequency keeps you in touch with new developments in contemporary art practice from across the UK. The artists are selected and profiled by leading curators, artists and writers, presenting the work of artists to watch out for over the coming year. Open Frequency represents a forward-looking glance today of the artists who will be setting the agenda tomorrow.