British contemporary artist Marcus Coates will be creating a unique art event where members of the public will get the opportunity to “Question the Dead”.
The event will take place at Arnos Vale Cemetery in Bristol on Friday October 28 as part of Museums at Night, the UK-wide biannual festival of arts, culture and heritage. Some of the UK’s leading contemporary artists have been commissioned to create art events for the festival based around the theme of ritual.
Over the summer Marcus Coates has been asking the public to submit questions to the deceased at the cemetery, a unique heritage site with 45 acres of Victorian Gardens. “Questioning the Dead” will see them invited to call out the questions across the darkness of the cemetery, awaiting a response. The calling will itself be a chorus of voices, a ritualised collective projection of concerns, worries and the desire to ask out loud and seek resolution, where the need to ask is as important as getting a reply.
Described in the press as an “eccentric visionary”, Marcus Coates identifies a need to publicly voice the questions we care about and to approach answering in radically different ways. He is best known for his performances and installations that employ rituals to engage with social and political questions, including A Plover’s Wing, A Meeting with the Mayor of Holon (2009) where he attempted to answer questions from a politician in Israel, to School of Imagination (2013) where Coates trained a group of participants to help answer questions for policy makers at City Hall, London.
Marcus explains, “ To write a question down or ask a question out loud is to make it real. Even if no one else hears it, the question is born into the world and it stays until it is answered. I’ve been working with people’s questions for over 20 years, sometimes trying to answer them and sometimes allowing the questions themselves to be the focus. Forming a question is an art in itself, if you care about the answer enough.
When I ask a question I’m motivated by a need to enquire, to be curious but also to resolve what often feels irreconcilable or out of my control. Bringing these thoughts together into a form of a question and voicing them is I think a way of understanding yourself. Hearing other people’s questions is a way of understanding others. There are not many places where you can physically share your questioning in a collective way. Is this a ritual we need to create?
Being in the evocative surroundings of the Arnos Vale Cemetery you can’t help but bring to life the imagined past lives and experiences of those that lie beneath the surface. They are not going to answer back and they are not going to judge, which will hopefully give us permission to ask the questions out loud that we need to, together.”
Coates’ has recently published a book on exercising the imagination to help answer difficult questions, UR… A Practical Guide to Unconscious Reasoning (2014) and also a new monograph, Marcus Coates, available from Oct 2016. His work often documents his attempts to find answers for others, such as The Trip (2011), where Coates made a journey to ask a remote tribe in the Amazon a series of questions on behalf of a terminally ill man in a hospice in London, and in Station to Station (2015) at the Barbican London, where Coates made paintings as answers to the public’s questions.
Alongside ‘Questioning the Dead’, the new Arnos Vale site will be open to visitors to explore during the evening -including the chapels and the Underwood Centre.
For adults there are a series of walks including the After Hours Tours, which reveal the darker side of Arnos Vale at dusk, in an atmospheric exploration of tragic tales, folk customs and funeral etiquette of Victorian society.
Public Engagement Manger Janine Marriott said: “Arnos Vale Cemetery is an amazing location to hold events and this Autumn we are so excited to host this exciting performance by renowned artist Marcus Coates after winning the Museums at Night competition. For more information visit www.arnosvale.org.uk
The October festival for Museums at Night, the UK-wide twice-yearly festival of arts, culture and heritage, will take place from Thursday 27 to Saturday 29 October 2016.
To take part click here