Dawn Chorus

Espai 13

Exhibition program
Implicit Sound
Marcus Coates
Curated by

Coates examines the limits between human and animal through a kind of experimentation that lets him turn into an animal himself. Thanks to his interest in ornithology, zoology and anthropology, he has honed a series of skills to break free of his own human condition and explore the world through the mind and body of animals by literally taking on their own skin. In his films he often plays the role of a shaman to access a ‘lower world’ inhabited by birds and mammals, whose spirits he communicates with to try and understand the nature of certain difficult problems of interest to the audience, in whose name he acts. Through this power of becoming something or someone else, he tries ultimately to reveal the role of the artist as an interpretive force in society.

Coates’s videos take us far away from our anthropocentric perspective and back to a time before untrammelled industrialisation and the destruction of habitats to stress our species’ arrogance in our disrespect for the environment. Coates’s interest in both the magical and the rational suggests that the gap between belief and knowledge might not be that great.

Coates’s desire to get others involved in his transformations is perfectly reflected in Dawn Chorus (2007), an ambitious installation made up of nineteen films. Each one features a singer mimicking a bird singing at dawn from the comfort of their own home. Working with sound technician Geoff Simple, he placed microphones in woods in Northumberland United Kingdom) for a fortnight to record individual birdsongs in the dawn chorus. The recordings were then slowed down and passed on to the human participants –all of them professional singers– so they could learn them and perform them in front of the camera. The footage was then speeded up again to match the speed of the original recordings. The result is a hybrid of benign doppelgangers: an office worker becomes a wren and an old lady is transformed into a pheasant. Their heads move erratically and their chests rise and fall at a similar speed to the birds they are mimicking. Human and animal fuse inan incredibly powerful and vivid fashion, recalling the half-man, half-beast beings of ancient mythologies.

Filmed in Bristol, the project is as much a portrait of British society and its own idiosyncrasies as of our own natural world.