Preview: Psychopomp by Marcus Coates

Vision Quest, Ernie by Marcus Coates. Photo by Nick David. Produced by Nomad.

Work by modern day shaman Marcus Coates is on show at Milton Keynes Gallery in the first UK public space to hold a survey of the artist’s work.

Psychopomp includes early film pieces, sculpture, sound, costume, photography as well as new work. In many of the pieces Coates goes to extreme lengths to commune with wildlife.

The London-based artist has said his 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.”

Such humour can be seen in a film such as Goshawk in which a telephoto lens picks out a tree top in which Coates himself is perched. In Finfolk he assumes the identity of a seal and emerges from the sea speaking a made-up seal language.

There can be no doubting his commitment, as many films show the artist engaged in shamanistic rituals, wearing animal skins and entering a trance-like state in which he attempts to summon spirits.

In this way Coates has often worked with human communities to solve problems which have eluded the rational mind. In Norway he tackled prostitution and in Israel he explored the Palestinian conflict.

One of the most striking pieces in his latest show features everyday people singing like birds. Dawn Chorus was filmed with the help of a sound recordist who slowed down birdsong so that it could be mimicked and then speeded up the results to echo the original calls.

Milton Keynes’ infamous concrete cows were unavailable for comment on the show.

Written for Culture24.

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