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The Collection, Lincoln
15 Sep 07 – 16 Dec 07

Sainsbury Centre
for Visual Arts

30 Jan – 24 Jun 07

Norwich Castle
Museum & Art Gallery

3 Feb – 15 Apr 07

Film and Video Umbrella

Arts Council
Marcus Coates

Participation has long been an important aspect of Marcus Coates’ practice, and in particular the notion of ‘becoming animal’, that is, taking on an animal’s characteristics as either a spiritual journey, or one that imitates basic behaviour. For ‘Waterlog’, Coates has created two new and related works, both of which explore the cultural mythology of one of the region’s most elusive birds: the bittern. In a long display case are placed eleven unstuffed bittern specimens – known as ‘skins’ – from the museum’s natural history collection, representing the total number of males recorded in Britain in 1997, the lowest figure since the 1950s, and from which the current population has subsequently grown. Emanating from this rather macabre display, as if from the dead birds themselves, is a song of bitterns and bitterness composed and performed by the artist in a local accent, itself a warning – and perhaps example – of man’s folly.

The bittern has long been perceived as a messenger of doom, perhaps due to its deep, booming call; this can be heard at regular intervals within the rotunda of the Castle Museum, around which can also be read the following quotation from the Old Testament’s Book of Zephaniah: ‘the bittern shall lodge in the upper lintels of it; their voice shall sing in the windows; desolation shall be in the thresholds.’ Given that this warning concerns the Lord’s destruction of the city of Nineveh, now known as the Iraqi city of Mosul, these words possess a distressing contemporary relevance.

Britain's Bitterns c. 1997