One of the artists I keep coming back to in reflections on my practice and research is Marcus Coates.  I have listened to his presentation as part of the Contemporary Arts Practice series at the University of Dundee a few times now, and whilst in many ways I see his work as rather bizarre, there is something about it that compels me to return to projects such as Goshawk Self Portrait (1999) and Stoat (1999). And, like it or not, I see some similarities of intent and process with my own work, although the outcome is very different.

Coates speaks of his search ‘to know the unknowable’ – my search is to capture Derrida’s ‘unnameable glimmer’ which was certainly an unknowable concept when the philosopher used this term.  Coates refers also to ‘interiority’ in his work (a word I have used to articulate my work Among Trees).  He is interested in the shared objective world, the consensus of reality and how worlds are negotiated, re-negotiated and redefined.  He uses himself to explore these ideas.  His work is often an exploration of self (the interior) and how we relate to other species (the exterior) and sometimes anthropocentric in terms of how we position ourselves as humans.  My search is for the ‘real qualities’, the essence of the Isle of Skye accessed through the conjunction between the real object and its real qualities (Harman 2018).  

There are three of Coates’ works that I find interesting.  Goshawk Self Portrait (1999) explores becoming and being a Goshawk, strapped to a Scots Pine in a forest in Cumbria for about an hour, seeing and experiencing the world from a bird’s perspective in an attempt to experience and inhabit its world.  Similarly, in Stoat (1999) inspired by the philosopher Thomas Nagel’s What is it Like to be a Bat? (2016) Coates seeks to become the tiny, enigmatic animal with an attempt to mimic its movement and gait. Another of Coates’ works, Humpback Whale (2016) sees the artist attempting to experience and replicate the animal’s vocalisations underwater.

In what ways might Coates’ work serve to raise questions and inspiration for my own practice?  In terms of intent, he is looking at being and becoming.  He speaks of a sense of interiority that I have been exploring in my work.  Whilst initially I did not see the similarity in the conception of my work, I now believe that we have comparable motivations.  I strive to become aware of the being in a natural ‘thing’.  I am investigating a number of processes and ideas but the more I seek the essence of another object the more it requires a deep understanding of that other, through a process of deep engagement.  Whether I am endeavouring to be or become, like Coates, is not clear to me yet.

In order to inhabit the other’s world, I seek to enter a non-conscious, contemplative state, where I am so immersed in nature and with my camera that we become one, as we search together for that ephemeral moment of revelation.  Coates, through Shamanic rituals, seeks to communicate with animal spirits in a similar ‘less conscious state’.

The idea of inside/outside, a theme for the presentation from Coates, and for the Contemporary Arts Practice series led him to talk about the interiority of self and the engagement with the external world.  From my perspective, the inside in my work is the noumena, and gaining access to it behind the veil of presence, whereas the external world for me, is the world of sensory perception.

I have enjoyed hearing Marcus Coates talk about his work and notwithstanding the somewhat unconventional delivery of his projects, I feel I have a good understanding of what he is trying to achieve and convey through his work.  Getting to the essence of our world and the ‘things’ that inhabit it are common goals.



Coates, M. (1999). “Goshawk Self Portrait.” Retrieved 16/2/21, from

Coates, M. (2016). Humpback Whale.

Harman, G. (2018). Object-Oriented Ontology – A New Theory of Everything. Milton Keynes, Pelican Books.

Nagel, T. and U. Diehl (2016). What is it like to be a bat?, Kindle Edition.


Alison Price

Alison Price

My name is Alison Price and for the past ten years I have travelled the world photographing wildlife, including Alaska, Antarctica, Borneo, Botswana, the Canadian Arctic, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
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