100 Colorado Creatives: Mark McCoin
Mark McCoin, in the heat of a performance.
#77: Mark McCoin Experimental musician and multimedia artist Mark McCoin has paid his dues many times over, contributing a free-thinking, collaborative style of creativity to the Front Range scene over three decades. He's worked with a who's-who of the local avant-garde, and in the last of those decades, he honed his explorative leanings at the University of Colorado as a grad student and instructor.
The next step for McCoin -- who's most recently been seen and heard in various collaborations at the Mercury Cafe's Gorinto nights, as the guiding light of the student project New Directions in Digital Art and as a voice in a recent successful crowd-funding campaign to save the Tank, an acoustic wonder of the world located in Rangely, Colorado -- is a bittersweet one: He's saying goodbye to Colorado and heading to San Antonio soon for a tenure-track teaching job.
Members of McCoin's NDiDA Project at work.
But McCoin's not leaving without a proper goodbye. He'll be in Denver this week for two farewell shows: The ﬁrst, "Everything Must Go," a culminating NDiDA performance representing the end of a two-year series, goes down tomorrow (Wednesday, April 24) at 7 p.m. at the Mercury Cafe; admission is $5, and food is available for an additional $5. The second, "Sound Created the Ear," is an evening of interdisciplinary installations and performances by McCoin and students from his Sound and Intermedia class unfolding after 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 27, at Pirate gallery; admission is free.
An NDiDA performance.
We're not taking McCoin's defection to Texas personally. As noted, he's paid his dues. He'll be leaving behind a solid and communal creative legacy, and there's a community working under the radar here that will miss him dearly. Reason enough for us: We asked him to answer the 100CC questionnaire; read on for his answers.
Westword: If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?
Mark McCoin: John Cage. He changed the way a lot of us think about sound and its relationship to art and music. He gave us permission to listen to and be delighted by the sounds around us -- and not just musical or meaningful sounds -- just sounds. He also helped us to let go of a certain kind of absolute control in time-art composition through the use of "chance" procedures. In addition, Cage was instrumental in noise composition, music concrete, prepared piano, happenings, and interdisciplinary collaborations. So much of what we take for granted in the performance arts were, and still are, heavily inﬂuenced by John Cage's works, writings, and ideas.
Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?
Although I've never seen them live, I am a big conceptual fan of the "Degenerate Art Ensemble" out of Seattle. There is a lot of overlap in terms of their inﬂuences and my own. They create large-scale works that defy categorization, and exhibit excellence on every front. They are unique innovators of interdisciplinary art performance with technology.
On a more "individual artist" level, I have been thinking a lot about Marina Ambromovic lately, perhaps because of her most recent work at MOMA, "The Artist is Present." She is genuine, brave, and open. Her works come from layers of experience, and manifest in viscerally challenging, yet accessible performances. She is a performance artist who lives her art regardless of its origins or controversies. That kind of authentic, connected dedication is inspiring to me.
What's your day job?
I teach interdisciplinary art installation and performance in the Department of Art and Art History at CU, Boulder. I was recently offered a tenure track, faculty position at the University of Texas, San Antonio, in their Art and Art History Department, so I will be moving there this summer and starting to develop and teach a new New Media program.
What's one art trend you want to see die this year?
I have been struggling with this question. Either I don't pay enough attention to art trends, or there's nothing speciﬁcally happening in art that I want to see die before its time. I am inspired by the range of ideas that are coming to the fore, including appropriation, collaborative works, integrated arts, bio-arts, digital/material hybrids, sound arts, non-aesthetic works, new media and performances collaborations with technologies.
I love it when people are actively being creative. I also love creativity that is not based on commerce. I think the process of creating art is healing and exercises the best parts of our humanness. Art outcomes or trends are less important to me than the fact that people are making work and manifesting creative freedom in their lives.
A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?
First of all, I would purchase a large studio space that would include a black box theater with all the trimmings. Next, I would purchase computers, projectors, lights, software, sound gear, documentation equipment and whatever else would be needed to outﬁt an experimental and multidisciplinary theater.
I would then entice a community of like-minded creatives to help put together an integrated-arts laboratory dedicated to the development of innovative art-performance experiences. We wouldn't concentrate on works that are traditional in form, but rather develop novel combinations of art, technology, and performance.
When we have produced a show or a series of performances that we would like to share, we would travel in our large and very comfortable bus(es) to galleries, museums, nightclubs, DIY spaces, outdoor venues, and festivals.
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
Care about and support what we have! I've worked all over the world as part of the creative merchant marine. Since I've lived here, I've experienced world-class artists of every kind. The difﬁculty with Colorado is that it doesn't have much of an industry to support high-end creative work, so it's difﬁcult for local creative people to get beyond a certain career threshold.
I also think that dedicated media reviews/critiques of quality experimental or alternative types of shows would be very useful in Colorado. In the '80s and '90s we used to get media reviews of our new music and performance events. It was foundationally helpful in terms of being able to build on past successes, get grant funding and show potential audiences or promoters that what we were doing was legitimate, or at least taken seriously by peers and the press. Presently, Denver media is very good in terms of show notiﬁcations, but I have not had one of my events or collaborations reviewed in Colorado for a number of years. It would help a lot.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Michelle Ellsworth! I have many favorites, but Michelle's unique works continue to challenge, surprise, and inspire. What are three of your favorite projects from over the years?
1. "Gifts From Unknown Islands," 2009: My MFA thesis work, which was a theatrical piece exploring industrial-age birthing processes through the lens of interdisciplinary performances with technologies.
2. "Outlier," 2012: This is a piano-harp duet with Max Bernstein and myself. We performed multiple times and made videos using a found piano harp that had been left outdoors for a year in the Colorado mountains. The live performance also included real-time video projection of our hands activating the instrument. We are currently working with Tom Hagerman (Devotchka) and the Boulder Symphony on a chamber orchestra concert with the pianoharp.
3. Save The Tank, 2013: Since the late 1970s, a growing group of Colorado sound artists/musicians have been making and recording sounds in an empty water tank in Rangely, CO. The act of collaborating with its glorious reverberant properties has been instrumental in the development of many of our individual approaches to sound composition. We have just ﬁnished a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised enough funds to secure the tank and to create a stable situation for the next generation of sound artists to have access to this amazing sonic wonder.
Throughout the year, we'll be featuring 100 superstars from Denver's creative community. Stay tuned to Show and Tell for more, or visit the 100 Colorado Creatives archive to catch up.
Who rocks your world locally? Do you have a suggestion for a future profile? Feel free to leave your picks in the comments.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Denver, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.