Marcus Coates

Marcus Coates - Vane

Marcus Coates, Local Birds, video, 2001

The work of Marcus Coates represents what might be described as a process of reverse anthropomorphism by giving animal characteristics to human beings.

Local Birds features the residents of the rural Northumberland village of Allenheads imitating the birdsong of species common to the area – curlew, red grouse, wren, meadow pipit, chaffinch, golden plover, dipper and green woodpecker. Each song is sung by a different inhabitant of the village, pictured in their own habitat, such as a front room, a shed or post office van. Thus, each villager ‘becomes’ their most-loved bird. Recordings of the calls of individual birds were slowed down to a tonal range equivalent to that of human speech and people were filmed while singing along to the noise.

The film was then digitally speeded up so that its soundtrack was pitched at the same tone as the original birdsong. The result not only transforms the human voice but also emphasises unconscious gestures that now appear uncannily similar to the physical behaviour of the imitated birds. The artificiality of this process serves to reiterate the obvious differences between the species and the impossibility of our ever gaining a true understanding of the non-human experience. Simultaneously, through the illusion of making this impossibility happen, the work attempts to bridge this gap, suggesting unconscious, almost magical, corporeal connections between man and beast.