Conference for the Birds by Marcus Coates

Five wooden chairs sit in an old farmhouse sitting room, with seven over-sized black and white bird heads towering above

Until 3 November, a new installation by contemporary artist and ornithologist Marcus Coates reimagines Thomas Bewick’s birthplace, featuring seven of Bewick’s engravings depicted as life-size birds gathered round the fireplace discussing their lives, knowledge and culture.

Taking inspiration from the birds Bewick immortalised in his engravings and recorded in his ground breaking book 'A History of British Birds', Conference for the Birds brings to life Bewick’s work for visitors in a new and contemporary way; shining a spotlight on the historical significance of Cherryburn and challenges facing wildlife and nature today.

The birds, each researched and played by wildlife experts, discuss topics from migration to predation, with each species recounting their day to day experiences.

Visitors are invited to take a seat among the birds for a unique insight into a bird’s perspective of the world.

By exploring the lives of the birds that Bewick studied and recorded, Conference of the Birds reveals how many of the experiences and challenges faced by wildlife relate to our own, and how relevant they are today as when the Bewick’s book was first published over 200 years ago.  

Marcus comments “I think there is value in this attempted shift in outlook as it creates unexpected lines of questioning and enquiry. This 'play' can also reveal just as much about us to ourselves than it does about the birds.”

Find out more about Marcus Coates by visiting his website here

Please be aware that this installation contains discussion about bird behaviour including mating, hunting and male anatomy.

This exhibition is part of the research project ‘Mapping Contemporary Art in the Heritage Experience’, led by Newcastle and Leeds Universities and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Working with partners the National Trust, Churches Conservation Trust and English Heritage, the project examines how by encountering contemporary art in heritage locations, visitors can be encouraged to think about the property and its history in different ways. In 2018 and 2019, six new artworks were created for four heritage locations in North East England, including this work at Cherryburn.

Find out more about ‘Mapping Contemporary Art in the Heritage Experience’ here

Follow the project on twitter @mcahe_NU #mcahe
Marcus Coates' Conference for the Birds is the last of the artworks commissioned by the project and responds specifically to Thomas Bewick’s publication the History of British Birds (1797) which bought his detailed wood engravings and information about the bird’s lives to a mass audience for the first time.

Discover a new contemporary art installation at Cherryburn
A image of Thomas Bewick's cuckoo
Discover a new contemporary art installation at Cherryburn