Tag Archives: Marcus Coates

Marcus Coates & Henry Montes, A Question of Movement (2011)

coates movement2

The less seriously he takes himself, the more his audience appear willing to suspend disbelief. This – it seems to me – is the peculiar genius of artist, and sometime shaman, Marcus Coates.

His East London gallery is currently showing a four-year-old film in which he visits ‘ordinary’ people in their homes or workplaces and, prompted by a question they’ve prepared, dances for them.

No music comes between the artist and his private audience. Coates will remove his glasses, as if to put a check on his intellect. But this is his only concession to costume.

He takes the locations as he finds them. There are unwashed dishes in the kitchen and discarded beer cans in the bedroom. There is an everyday drabness about the office.

And no matter how comic you might find in the notion of answering questions through the medium of contemporary dance, Coates plays these performances quite straight.

The only comedy comes within the terms of the dance, as he flings himself on the floor, stampedes on the bed, convulses on the carpet, headstands against the kitchen counter.

His audience don’t laugh and neither do we laugh at them. It is to their unending credit that they take this project seriously and express their reactions and insights with great respect.

And so Coates and collaborator Henry Montes (a dancer who has presumably coached the artist) bring out the best in their audience and demonstrate how open minded people can be.

There is a sense that this experience has been at worst merely interesting and at best genuinely useful to the three participants, who face problems ranging from distractibility to indecision.

Coates reminds us that dance is a primal activity. But there is a quietness to the way he presents it here, which implies that putting on a wild improvisation is the most natural thing in the world.

(Whether your scene is a nightclub or a wedding disco, maybe take along one or two live issues to your next dancefloor. The first problem can no longer be, Do I look stupid right now?)

A Question of Movement was commissioned by Siobhan Davies Dance and can be seen at Kate MacGarry, London, until 24 October 2015.

Marcus Coates, Dawn Chorus (2007)

Dawn Chorus

Slow down birdsong. Imitate it with human vocal chords. Record that and bring it back up to speed. And what you have is an uncannily accurate impersonation of any given feathered friend.

If you didn’t know this, and few will at first, the 2007 film installation Dawn Chorus looks like a well-executed one-liner. It looks like a comic parallel between the way we and birds emote.

The fourteen screens, high and low, in the darkened gallery each feature an amateur singer, filmed alone at dawn. These unrelated individuals can apparently hear (but not see) one another.

Coates would also have us consider the joy we project onto birdsong: both the joy it gives us and the joy it appears to express. So there is more to this piece than an echo chamber of mating calls.

And it’s interesting that the year before it’s premiere was also the year in which tech wizards in New York developed the micro-blogging platform we know and love as Twitter.

It’s said when they went to the dictionary they found a definition which offered two alternatives: along with ‘chirps from birds’, a twitter was found to be ‘a short burst of inconsequential information’.

Anyone who doubts the lack of consequence which rides upon a tweet or indeed an entire twitter-feed need only look at the results of the recent UK election. The people I follow surely lost that.

But as Beckett would have it, at the end of The Unameable: “You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on”. Tweets, status updates, Instagrams and rambling blog posts show little sign of letting up.

Coates has sped up the movements of his singers along with their voices. And so, we remain like his subjects: solitary, atomised, and even twitching compulsively in the gloom; that’s Twitter.

But social media does at least let us get away from our homes and offices. In a loose sense, it lets us take flight. Okay, that’s stretching a point, but it gave me some joy to type.

Dawn Chorus can be seen at Fabrica, Brighton, until 25 May 2015. Read my 2010 interview with Marcus Coates here. Last week I finally started Instagramming – follow me here.