"The self is only a threshold, a door, a becoming between two multiplicities" – Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus
In the front room of a Liverpool tower complex slated for demolition, Marcus Coates calls upon a host of animal spirit guides for consultation in an effort to aid and comfort the evicted tenants. His audience, primarily consisting of elderly men and women, sit bewildered and amused as Coates descends in to what he calls the “Lower World,” a state of being where one can no longer distinguish between the artist and sparrow hawk, moorhen, or stag. He struts, flaps, barks, grunts and clucks as he encounters these creatures one by one until, eventually, one of their actions strikes him as significant and a message can be deciphered or devined.
The artist is a shaman – a buck’s antlered head and hide worn over his sweater and slacks, and at his side, mystical tools from pen lid nostril flutes to house key shoe rattles. Even his Reebok athletic shoes, named after an African antelope, have ‘potential attributes and power in the spirit world.’ Confronted by absurd costumes and bizarre rituals, his audiences seem hard pressed whether to laugh out loud or get up and leave, yet in the end Coates’ sincerity inevitably replaces cynicism and skepticism with optimism and hope.
Stories from the Lower World features three of Coates’ most significant works to date: Journey to the Lower World, The Plover’s Wing and Kamikuchi. Each film features the artist as shaman, who with an earnestness to lend a hand, addresses problems that move from eviction and illegal bicycle parking to the politics of the Israeli/Palestinian crisis. His work is revealed as a serious endeavour reflecting on humanity and our ontological conventions as they surface through our connection with others (animals). The ensuing questions link real people with real issues, however superficial they might seem, and express our humanity in a manner that would in fact be familiar to indigenous cultures all around the world. Participating in a conversation that includes Deleuze & Guattari’s seminal writing on ‘mutual becoming’ to Joseph Beuys’ embodiment of the shaman, Coates’ work is a rich investigation of the spiritual and social potential of art.
Marcus Coates (born 1968) lives and works in London, England with his videos, performances and installations being shown internationally. Recent exhibitions include: Altermodern, Tate Triennial, London, 2009; Lisson Presents 2, Lisson Gallery, London, 2008; Manifesta7, Trento, Italy, 2008; Kunsthalle Zurich 2009; Tomio Koyama Gallery, Tokyo 2009; Sydney Biennial 2010. Coates received the Paul Hamlyn Visual Arts Award in 2008 and the Daiwa Foundation Art Prize in 2009. He was the Calouste Gulbenkian Artist in Residence in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, 2008.