Unitarian Church, Shrewsbury 11 July – 8 August 2009
It could be argued that Shrewsbury's greatest claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of Charles Darwin, one of the world's most influential thinkers, and so it is perhaps appropriate that London-based artist Marcus Coates presents his latest video work here. 'Follow the Voice' creates parallels between a diverse range of man-made sounds and a mixture of animal calls and songs. Humorously commenting on Darwin's 1872 publication The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, Coates recorded pockets of sound
which he collected from the modern landscape of Shrewsbury, in order to explore what he describes as "unexpected patterns of sonic kinship".
Marcus Coates, 'Follow the Voice'. Courtesy: the artist and Workplace Gallery.
Commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella and Shropshire Council Arts Services; Supported by Arts Council England.
Through the process of speeding up or slowing down recordings of man-made sounds such as pedestrian crossings, the background noise from Gala Bingo nights and an office printer, Coates demonstrates the uncanny likeness between noises we encounter everyday and the sounds of particular animal species. Indeed, it is surprising to realise how much the door at Asda closing sounds like the call of a humpback whale, and how reminiscent a police siren is of a greenfinch. Perhaps this is what the work is really about. Perhaps Coates wanted to leave the audience with a greater sense of the sounds around them and the noises that infiltrate the everyday.
'Follow the Voice' was sited at the Unitarian Church where the young Charles Darwin was apparently a frequent visitor. While it could be said that the small scale of the screen was somewhat dwarfed by the trappings of the interior, the sound was definitive. Given the nature of the piece the church would appear to be the ideal home for Coates' work, its placing in a place of worship an act of obvious irony, and perhaps commenting upon the life journey Darwin himself took: from studying to be an Anglican parson as a young man he eventually became the seminal author of On the Origin of the Species, effectively refuting everything the church represents. Although, it would appear as if there are no signs of hard feelings from Shrewsbury's Unitarian Church, all in the name of art.
While 'Follow the Voice' is a clever and humorous comment on society, it could be argued that unless you live in Shrewsbury or are a fan of Coates' work, it's possibly not worth the journey. As an individual piece it's clever, but only gains depth through knowledge of Darwin and the town he called home. Admittedly it is beautifully shot and the combination of disembodied and dislocated sounds makes for a captivating fifteen to twenty minutes, however, there was a general desire for more that was not sated. 'Follow the Voice' left me with a sense of something unfinished.
Leaving with the overwhelming impression that this was merely a prelude to a main event, one cannot help but wonder what result would be produced if Coates followed the voices in another town or city, perhaps your own. It would inevitably make for an interesting point of comparison to this Shrewsbury incarnation. And so, while paying closer attention to the noises around me, I wait eagerly and with bated breath for a sequel.
Article originally published by a-n Magazine UK September 2009.