Interview with artist Erin Coates

Feb 24, 2022 | Interviews | 0 comments

Q: You’re an established visual artist working across sculpture, drawing and video. Which medium do you prefer and why?

A: I can’t really choose one. They’re all interconnected for me. Often when I have an idea, I’ll explore it across those three mediums and there’ll be a strong interconnection between them.

Each one has different things I love about it; the collaborative energy of working on films and video works and the craziness of actually shooting a short film;  and with the more studio-based practices of drawing and sculpture, I love the solitude and the concentration, as well as learning new skills inside of those mediums.

Q: Congratulations on participating in the 23rd Biennale of Sydney “rīvus” as the only West Australian artist. Tell me a little bit more about your involvement in this and what you’ll be creating.

A: Thanks. It is a really exciting event to be invited to participate in.

The work that I’ve made relates strongly to the body of work I’ve been producing over the last couple of years connected to the Derbarl Yerrigan / Swan River.

I started researching it when I was doing a residency at Goolugatup Heathcote and looking at the changing ecology in our river, but also in urban waterways across Australia and really across the world.

I’m particularly interested in the transference of matter into and out of urban waterways, especially the removal of oyster shell reefs and how this has impacted the ecology of the river.

For a long time, we dredged the oyster shells to grind them up and use the lime for building materials.


Erin Coates, 2020 oystershells, brass, lead, steel, interactive audio component 270 x 290 x 4 cm composer: Stuart James photography by Daniel Grant, courtesy of Goolugatup Heathcote

We Built This City (on ground up oyster shells), Erin Coates, 2020
oystershells, brass, lead, steel, interactive audio component
270 x 290 x 4 cm
composer: Stuart James
photography by Daniel Grant, courtesy of Goolugatup Heathcote

One of the new works I’ve made for the Biennale of Sydney relates strongly to this.

I’ve used tens of thousands of oyster shell lids that have been discarded from restaurants, and they form a massive scale-like river that slides down the wall and spills out onto the floor.

Interwoven into this is oyster shells that I’ve sculptured and then cast in silicon.

They have river pearls, animal hair, lead sinkers, a whole lot of other little elements embedded within the silicon.

They bring an element of horror to the work and a sense of biological change and transformation.

Q: What sparked your interest in the natural world, horror, biology, science fiction and genre film cultures?

A: I think I’ve always been fascinated in biology and nature.

When I was growing up, my Dad was a professional shell diver so we spent a lot of time around the West Australian coast while he was diving.

I’ve always been fascinated in that underwater world. And sadly also I’ve observed some of the transformations that have taken place even within my lifetime.

So for me, horror comes not from this notion of monsters from the deep, but from the anthropocentric impact on these ecologies and spaces.

I guess I’m always fascinated in looking more closely and never turning away.

There’s also always been a deep interest for me in genre cinema, and I love the DIY approach to B-grade films.

And I also enjoy a lot of female horror directors and I just find that it can be a really effective means of exploring different ideas of survival, fear, resilience, and also beauty, incorporating elements of horror into my work.

But there’s always an aesthetic hook. There’s always beauty and fascination in the mix.

Q: You completed your Master of Fine Arts at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. What was this experience like?

A: I’d done an undergrad and an Honours at Curtin University in Perth, and although it was a good degree, I really felt like I wasn’t going to get any more from being in that same academic space.

I really wanted to challenge myself and be exposed to a whole lot of new ideas, different lecturers.

So I researched and found University British Columbia had a really great Master of Fine Arts.

And I spent nearly three years in Canada studying there and also teaching at the university, and it’s where I got into rock climbing, which is another real love of mine and another element of my life that often feeds into my art practice.

Q: How did you film the Thigmotaxis video? Did you have to use cherry pickers and/or drones?

A: It was an interesting time, we shot that (Thigmotaxis) in around 2014, just before a lot of the rules around drones were put in place and we just got in there.

We were also really covert. We got up at 4:00am in the morning to go and climb public art and shot it with drones and put cameras on sticks.

It was very guerrilla style, because of course we never asked for permission. 

Q: How would you say that your hobbies influence your work? 

A: It’s hard to say because I almost don’t think of things like free diving and climbing as hobbies.

They’re just so important to my life, because for me, there’s a really important relationship between physical endurance and creative endurance.

In my art practice I like to have a physical proximity to the topics I’m exploring. I don’t want to just research underwater spaces.

I want to be there filming them and observing them. So they’re really deeply enmeshed with each other.

My art feeds my fascination in the natural world, and my interest in rock climbing and free diving is always within my art practice.

Q: Do you find that you keep your fascination in all your projects or how does that work?

A: You can’t be invested in lots of big projects and research all at once.

For me, I focus on one project at a time, often with concepts connected to the natural world, to underwater spaces, to climbing and urban spaces, and to automobile travel.

It shifts across those different themes. But I guess my approach, the intensity with which I research things and my physical engagement with the work is the same.

Erin is a loyal Western Frontier Traders client and will be using river pearls from our store for the upcoming Biennale of Sydney.