Marcus Coates, The Trip (2011)

Marcus Coates, The Trip, 2010. Documentary photograph, Courtesy of the artist

Towards the end of this 35 minute film, a horrible thought occurred to me. Maybe Marcus Coates is making the whole thing up and playing an unethical trick on a terminally ill man.

In voiceover, with a view from a hospice room, he describes a trip up the Amazon in vivid detail. It is lush, green, benign, too good to be true, almost like a meditation tape.

This is reminiscent of earlier films where Coates goes on imaginary journeys to commune with the natural world. Having put questions to animals, he now claims to put them to the Huaorani tribe.

But despite the inclusion of ten inch wide dragonflies, this is no drug trip. It is a real life adventure-to-order for the pleasure of bed-bound Alex H. Intelligent, realistic, yet game, he is a good foil.

Still unable to be sure this trip happened, I even wonder if Alex is in on the joke. Both he and Coates sound close to laughter as the trip gets recounted off camera. Is he even dying?

This, however, may be what joy sounds like. Artist and subject have shared an amazing journey. And one person has gone well out of their way for another, evidently a good thing.

Not a million miles from shamanism. But Coates here finds a less equivocal way that artists can be socially useful. This trip ends with a blackout and a song. Let us hope that is the way for all of us.

Click here to read my interview with Marcus Coates from last year.

The Trip can be seen at Serpentine Gallery, London, as part of their project Skills Exchange: Urban Transformation and the Politics of Care. See gallery website for more details.

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